Re-interviews of children not in their best interests
15. In this matter, the children have attended a number of examinations with experts and counsellors. These include attending upon;
(a) Ms D, a family consultant, on 11 May 2017 for the purposes of preparing a child responsive program memorandum
(b) Attending upon Dr E for the preparation of a report on 20 June 2017.
(c) The children are also currently attending a clinical psychologist, Ms BB, for ongoing treatment of issues arising following the breakdown of the parent’s relationship.
I do have concerns for the children’s emotional wellbeing should they be subjected to parental conflict. The degree of parental conflict is a major risk factor associated with the children’s adjustment to separation. In addition, according to the Australian Psychological Society, recent research has also raised the risk that litigation may present to the mental health of a child.
- In circumstances where there is evidence before the Court regarding the impact of the parents’ separation and, significantly, the litigation itself potentially harming the children’s health, it is my view that the Court should be reluctant to require the children to attend yet a further interview unless there is significant additional utility to be obtained from that occurring. For reasons which I will discuss, I’m not satisfied that will be the case.
- In respect to the second issue that I invited Counsel for the mother to address, that is the question of delay, I have regard to principle 5, as set out in section 69ZN of the Act. That principle is that proceedings are to be conducted without undue delay and with as little formality, legal technicality and form as possible. My emphasis is on the issue of delay.
- I accept and agree with the respondent’s written submission that, in the event of the parents attending for further interviews with Dr E, further examination and cross examination of the mother is likely to be required. Additional cross examination of the maternal grandmother is also a possibly.
- In circumstances where the proceedings have already been adjourned part heard, to reopen the mother’s evidence would, in my view, contribute to additional delay, with the prospect that the proceedings may not be concluded in the remaining time that has been allocated.
- The third and final issue that Counsel for the mother was invited to address was what additional benefit or utility would be gained from requiring Dr E to re-interview the parents and the children before providing his updated report.
- I am satisfied that the extensive questioning of the mother, as reported in transcript, together with additional documentation that is being provided to him, which includes the reports of F Group, provides Dr E with ample opportunity to examine and prepare an updated report on issues that have arisen in these proceedings.
- Counsel for the mother indicated concerns that, if Dr E is only provided with the transcript of the proceedings thus far, Dr E will only be given access to the oral evidence of the mother and not the father.
- However, as I indicated on 13 April 2018, at the conclusion of the father’s evidence, if necessary, steps can be taken to facilitate Dr E having access to the evidence given by the husband. I am therefore satisfied that Dr E will be able to provide informed and appropriate evidence to the Court in his role as a single expert.
- As noted above, the children’s clinical psychologist, Ms BB, expressed concern for the emotional wellbeing of the children should they be subjected to further issues arising out of their parent’s conflict and this litigation. It is my view that forcing the children to attend a further interview with Dr E presents a risk to their emotional well-being. That risk out ways any possible benefit gained by requiring Dr E to conduct further interviews with the children.
- Further any such additional benefit to be gained by such interviews does not justify the additional delay in the proceedings that is likely to result from the mother being recalled to give evidence.
- In summary it is my view that the additional utility to be gained by the parents and the children attending for further interviews with Dr E does not justify the detriments to which I have referred. On that basis I dismiss the mother’s application.
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