Family Court ruling: Violent father given sole custody of child
- Category: Battered Mothers
- Created: Monday, 30 November -0001 09:30
- Written by Rachel Olding - Sydney Morning Herald
Victims of Crime Assistance League chief executive Robyn Cotterell-Jones says the Family Court is out of touch with the effects of domestic violence.
A violent man was granted sole custody of his son because he was deemed to be more capable than the boy's mother, who was rebuked for allegedly trying to turn the child against his father.
Among the reasons the Family Court gave for choosing the father to be sole carer is because he was unemployed and, therefore, could "devote all his time to the care of the child", compared with the mother, who worked part-time.
In an extremely unusual case, Judge Stewart Austin found the parents were so toxic towards each other that it was in the child's best interests to eliminate one from his life entirely.
Judge Austin chose in favour of the father, despite the man having numerous domestic violence convictions, and said the mother's relationship with the boy, who was 10 at the time of the judgment, could be "revived" later in life.
Critics of the Family Court say the 2014 judgment, which is about to be challenged in court, is part of a disturbing trend whereby the court sees a parent who is supposedly alienating the other parent as worse than an abusive parent.
The parents, given the pseudonyms Mr and Ms Perri, have been in and out of the Family Court since their relationship ended in 2009. Each blames the other for the boy's distress.
"[The child] feels he has to choose between his parents and this pressure is psychologically distressing," a family consultant said in a report relied upon in Judge Austin's judgment.
"The conflict of loyalty he feels is so strong he emotionally decompensates and his behaviour deteriorates."
In 2011, at a time Mr Perri was on an apprehended violence order and a good behaviour bond for domestic violence offences, the court ordered the boy live with his father and have supervised visits with his mother.
The boy's behaviour deteriorated to the point where he was severely disturbed and was self-harming, running away from school and hurting other children.
In the most recent judgment, Judge Austin decided to cut all the boy's contact with his mother, including letters and phone calls.
He found that the boy's deterioration was due to the looming court case, rather than the father's deficiency, and it would be exacerbated by disrupting his living situation.
He said Ms Perri's capacity to care for the child was inferior, partly because she worked part-time and did not have a detailed plan for improving the boy's life.
She was also reluctant to believe her son's claim that his older half-sibling had sexually assaulted him, despite the police believing it was probably true. She removed the half-sibling from their home, but believed the assault could not have happened because the boy was away at the time of the alleged incident.
Judge Austin said violence at the hands of the father, which stopped when the parents separated, was "in the past" and, therefore, was not a "pre-eminent issue".
Speaking to Fairfax Media, the mother said she felt like she had been told to simply "get over it".
"It was like the violence just wasn't relevant," Ms Perri, who has not seen her son in two years, said. "I had to be cross-examined by my ex-husband [because he couldn't afford legal representation] and it terrified me. I couldn't look at him."
She plans to return to court, alleging Mr Perri has contravened one of the orders by not keeping her informed of his current phone number.
The chief executive of the Victims of Crime Assistance League, Robyn Cotterell-Jones, said the Family Court was so out of touch with the effects of domestic violence that a royal commission was needed.
"It makes a farce out of all things supportive if the Family Court sides with the perpetrator and awards the children one tried to protect to the perpetrator," she said.
"When a woman leaves a man because his behaviour ... is unacceptable or criminal, they think they are doing what's right and almost always have naive assumptions that society will support them to be safe."
Source : http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/family-court-ruling-violent-father-given-sole-custody-of-child-20160405-gnz3pr.html