Pierce & Percival

Family Report Recommendations

Family Report Writer

  1. The family report was Exhibit A. The family consultant who prepared the family report was Ms K. She interviewed the parties, the children, and the mother’s new partner on 3 August 2016.
  2. The father told the family report writer that his new residence at (omitted) comprised a two-bedroom apartment. (omitted) is located about 130 km distance from (omitted) Public School and it takes about 1hr 45m to 2 hours to drive, one-way. The father commutes from (omitted) to work in Sydney each day.
  3. The father stated he is a frequent visitor to his brother’s home, located in (omitted) Sydney close to (omitted), where he is always welcome to stay overnight with the children.
  4. The father did not complete a university degree course, but entered the workforce instead. He trained on the job to become a (occupation omitted). He worked in this specialty in his fly in fly out job in Western Australia. He also works in this position with (employer omitted), including as a (occupation omitted).
  5. Both parties informed the family report writer that the father had not spent time with the children since the weekend commencing 21 May 2016, a period of almost 3 months.
  6. The family report writer noted that an issue in dispute, at the time of her interviews with the parties, was whether or not the time that the children spend with the father should be reduced or remain as current, noting the interim parenting orders of November 2015.
  7. The mother presented to the family report writer, inter alia, as being conscientious with a strong preference for order, finding reassurance in routine, consistency and structure. She also impressed as carrying a high level of underlying anxiety, being disposed to a constant state of nervous vigilance.
  8. The mother told the family report writer that the children had been expressing that they were not enjoying the time that they were spending with the father from around Easter 2016.
  9. The family report writer observed that the mother appeared to place a high priority on the importance of the children maintaining their involvement in multiple sporting activities.
  10. The father impressed the family report writer, inter alia, as being emotionally defended and the bearing of a man who believed the world seemed in a conspiracy to slight or injure him. He impressed as carrying an underlying level of sadness and unresolved grief. He demonstrated that that although prone to introspection, he was also an intelligent, thoughtful man who was articulate and capable of insight, and seemed to care deeply about maintaining a relationship with the children.
  11. The father told the family report writer that he wanted to see the children and spend fatherly time with them without the interruption and interference of other people.
  12. The father told the family report writer that his ex-girlfriend was “a psycho” so he could not stay with her and he did not have enough money to pay the mortgage and live in Sydney. He earns $69,000 a year and he pays $687 per month in child support.
  13. In discussing his current alcohol use the father told the family report writer that he has not been using alcohol when the children are with him, not since the court order. He said he is happy to keep the court order in this context (the court notes that interim order 11 of the court’s orders of 24 November 2015 provides that the father is restrained from consuming alcohol whilst the children are in his care and shall not consume alcohol for at least 12 hours prior to the children coming into his care). He stated that he does not have a dependence on alcohol, it is not a need or requirement, and he is not an alcoholic.
  14. The children told the family report writer that the reason the children have refused to go with the father to spend time with him, as provided under the court orders, is, inter alia, because he does not listen; spending time with the father makes them feel anxious and afraid; they are afraid to tell the father what they feel for fear of him becoming angry with them; they never know where they are going to sleep; (omitted) is too far away and they may not make it back to play sport on weekends or get to school in time on Mondays.
  15. The family report writer noted that these concerns of the children echo the same concerns reported by the mother. Further, the child Y, when asked by the family report writer what was the main problem, stated, “there were always changes. When dad went to Western Australia, the entire thing had to change. We didn’t know when we were seeing dad. Then he was living with his girlfriend at (omitted). But now he has moved to the (omitted).”
  16. The child Y also reported to the family report writer that the father and his former girlfriend used to fight with each other with swearing. The children were mostly watching movies or sleeping during this time.
  17. The child X reported to the family report writer, inter alia, that she feels that she cannot say anything around the father. She reported that when the father asked the children whether their weekend was fun, if she said it was not fun, the father “lost it at us, he gets really mad, he started swearing at us… So if I had a bad day, now I just say “yes” and agree with him because I don’t want to get yelled at again.” She further stated that they cannot speak up when they are with the father. They do not say anything or do anything. They just try to stay happy. The child X stated that, “but I feel really down inside.”
  18. The child Y reported to the family report writer that “I start to feel worried and thinking about my worries…like what if I do a bad job and thinking about it… It feels like you are panicking if I think about going to see dad.” He stated that if he went to see the father by himself he would be very worried if no one was with him. The child X stated that if she had to see the father by herself, she would feel awkward and would not know what to do.
  19. The child Y reported to the family report writer that if he calls the father Mr Percival at his house he gets mad. This child reported that on one occasion the father, when he got mad, punched a wall, when they were at the father’s residence in bed.
  20. The child X stated that she had not seen the father drinking alcohol or seeming under the influence of alcohol when the children were spending time with him for a long time. She stated that she was not worried about this issue any more.
  21. The family report writer referred to the children’s strong feelings of emotional ambivalence, disappointment and anger toward the father.
  22. The family report writer observed the children in the presence of the father. Once in the children’s presence, the family report writer observed that the father showed himself capable of warming, becoming animated, maintaining age-appropriate conversation and even being playful, funny and demonstrative toward them. The family report writer observed that towards the end of the children’s time with the father in the observation session, the children showed genuine expressions of happiness and joy. She stated that the children said goodbye to the father having broken through some of the strained distance that had initially kept them apart. They exchanged spontaneous and reciprocal hugs with the father.
  23. Under the heading “Evaluation”, the family report writer stated that the children were assessed as having a warm and positive relationship with the mother, who was their primary attachment figure and carer.
  24. The family report writer assessed that although the children have been refusing contact with the father, their anxiety and ambivalence concerning the father closely mirrors the same anxieties and fears about the father expressed by the mother, in particular that the father can erupt with explosive outburst of anger which causes the children distress.
  25. The family report writer stated that the father appears to have some difficulties with poor emotional regulation and his capacity for effective parenting reflective functioning is changeable. She observed that although the father demonstrated he is capable of being child focused and having insight into the children’s emotional-social needs, his capacity for making himself both physically and emotionally available has been inconsistent and intermittent. She stated that the children seem to genuinely experience a high level of anxiety when they are with the father because they have learnt over time that spending time with him is not always emotionally safe or predictable. She observed that the children are strongly aligned with the mother.
  26. The family report writer assessed that the child X has a closer and stronger attachment with the father than does Y.
  27. The family report writer stated that the father, by self-report in his affidavit material, admitted that at the time of the separation he had great difficulties adjusting to the loss of the marriage. The father appears to have had a strong post separation grief reaction which led to a period of depression and difficulties with using alcohol as a coping strategy (the court notes the father’s admission in paragraph 60 of his trial affidavit that at the time of separation, his consumption of alcohol had increased and he used alcohol as a means to cope). The father’s capacity for effective parental reflective functional and emotional availability immediately post separation was assessed by the family report writer to have been low. She observed that the mother appeared to demonstrate an extremely high level of hypervigilant concern for the children’s safety and showed a level of unwillingness to allow the father to have any opportunity to begin to repair or even develop his own relationship with the children without it being mediated through the mother.
  28. The family report writer observed that there appeared to have been a significant rupture in the bond of trust between the child Y and the father which had created what was assessed to be an ambivalent attachment relationship between Y and the father. She assessed that the father’s intermittent emotional and physical availability across Y’s early years appeared to have also been a contributing factor to the growing ambivalence and developing hostility that this child felt towards the father.
  29. The family report writer stated that the children both reported feeling a level of anxiety and fear when spending time with the father. She referred to the children describing times when they had seen the father erupt with explosive anger and disapproval which they felt was directed toward them. She noted that the father denied that he got angry with the children. The family report writer stated that based on the father’s presentation and interaction with her, it was assessed that the father does struggle with poor emotional regulation and is likely to struggle with sudden flashes and outbursts of anger.
  30. The family report writer stated that the father did not appear to have the same difficulties with alcohol use as he did during the marriage and after separation.
  31. The family report writer stated that the father was assessed as lacking insight into the extent to which his own past conduct had contributed to the rupture in the children’s relationship with him, however he was not wilfully or consciously neglectful or seeking to harm the children.
  32. The family report writer stated that the children could benefit from the mother working on learning how to allow the children to become more emotionally independent and individuated from her and how she might learn to establish and maintain better boundaries with the children.
  33. The family report writer observed that the parties’ post separation relationship was characterised by extremely low levels of trust and very high levels of conflict. She stated that this case had a marker of being one of entrenched and enduring conflict. She stated that the conflict appeared to be getting worse and more entrenched. It was also now threatening to undermine the children’s ability to enjoy a close and significant relationship with the father and there were signs that the risk of the children becoming permanently estranged from the father over time was high.
  34. The family report writer stated that the father may still benefit from seeking professional help in better addressing and overcoming his poor emotional regulation and anger issues and examining how this may be impacting his parenting and the children’s relationship with him.
  35. The family report writer stated that the father has not helped himself. His reputation for intermittent availability to the children emotionally and geographically in the past, has been reinforced by his choice to relocate away from (omitted) to the (omitted). She stated that the children and the mother have expressed valid concerns about the impracticality of maintaining the current time spent with father arrangements when the father lives two hours away from where the children have long established sporting commitments and activities.
  36. The family report writer referred to the child X’s extra-curricular activities including representative (hobbies omitted) at a national level. She stated that asking this child to sacrifice participation in activities which showcase her gifts and talents will not assist her to want to spend time with the father. She stated that both children’s longer term emotional and psychological health and well-being and their capacity to form successful intimate adult relationships will be at risk of being undermined if they are allowed to continue to reject the father and are not assisted to try to repair the rupture between them. She stated that it was the child Y who was assessed as being at greater risk to develop a longer term anxiety disorder and become entrenched in his refusal to see the father and estranged from him. She referred to the child’s vulnerability to anxiety and his preference for routine and structure.
  37. Under the heading “Recommendations”, the family report writer stated, inter alia, that unless the father relocates back to the (omitted) area, whilst the father resides at (omitted), the time the children spend with him should be reduced to include from Friday after school until Sunday evening and half of the school holidays. Further, that the father should facilitate and support the children attending their sporting activities. It was inappropriate in the circumstances of this family for the mother to be in attendance at every sporting event when the children are scheduled to spend time with the father; the children need to be assisted to learn to rely on the father independent of the mother. That the number of sporting activities and commitments arranged by the mother for the children needs to be seriously rationalised to make room for the father to be able to spend time with the children.
  38. The family report writer recommended that the children’s wish to spend less time with the father during the weekend, so that they can continue to participate in their sporting commitments and not be required to undertake a two hour drive from (omitted) to (omitted) before school on Monday mornings, needs to be given serious consideration. She recommended that if the father was unable to make suitable structured arrangements to facilitate getting the children to their sporting engagements on Saturdays and Sundays when they are spending time with him, then the court should consider reducing the time that the children spend with the father to include each alternate weekend after sport on Saturday until Sunday evening. Finally, the family report writer recommended that the children and the parents should be referred for assistance by a family therapist/social worker or psychologist who specialises in post separation conflict and anxiety in children and/or the Anchor (Supporting Kids Through Separation) Program run by Unifam at (omitted).

Oral evidence of family report writer

  1. The court refers to the family report writer’s oral evidence, aspects of which are set out below.
  2. The family report writer stated that she did not think that the mother was deliberately trying to undermine the children’s relationship with the father.
  3. The family report writer was cross-examined in relation to whether family therapy should occur before the children began spending time with the father. The family report writer stated that an order providing, for example, daytime time to be spent by the children with the father every second weekend in conjunction with family therapy could be considered initially. She had stated that something positive between the children and the father should occur sooner rather than later.
  4. The family report writer referred to the children’s anxiety in possibly not getting to their sporting activities on the Saturday morning if they were spending the fortnightly Friday night with the father at (omitted).
  5. The family report writer stated that from the material that she had read, the children were not yet ready to go with the father on the fortnightly Friday night.
  6. The family report writer expressed concern as to how one addressed the children’s anxiety (in not getting to their sporting activity on the Saturday morning) which was real. She stated that if the children have to go with the father to (omitted) on the Friday night then their anxiety was a real problem.
  7. In this context, the family report writer was cross-examined in relation to whether the children’s anxiety could be addressed by staying in Sydney with the father on the fortnightly Friday night. She stated that if the father had a “predictable” place for the children to stay on the Friday night that might help.
  8. Cross-examined by the father in relation to the children spending holiday time with him, the family report writer stated that the children would need to know who would be present with the father, and that the father would provide his full attention. The father would need to take care at the beginning, to assist the children have confidence with him.
  9. The family report writer stated that a graduated program of the children spending time with the father would provide more flexibility, starting where the children “are” presently.
  10. In relation to Saturday sporting activities, the family report writer stated, inter alia, that she would be reluctant to see the children’s sporting activities “bleed” into Saturday afternoons, with the Saturday morning sports being acceptable.
  11. The family report writer stated that if the children were presently reluctant to spend time with the father, then a graduated regime of the children spending time with the father may work and family therapy might have to start before such time commences.
  12. The court accepts the evidence of the family report writer subject to the court’s comments under the meaningful relationship primary consideration discussion later in these Reasons.

 

 

 

 

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