Master plan of alienation not made out
Conclusion as to Issue A
- Regrettably and reluctantly, I concur with Mr B’s observation that no matter which party is to blame, “the damage has been done” to X’s relationship with his father. As it stands at the moment, that relationship appears irretrievable, a situation which will have emotional and psychological consequences for both X and Mr Bell and his family.
- While both parties are to blame for the situation in which X currently finds himself, the father’s palpable hatred and contempt for the mother as seen in both his written and oral evidence, and his focus on holding her to account in some way for what he perceives as breaches of his rights as a father, permeated these proceedings.
- He cannot expect to have a relationship with X that is positive, close and nurturing while he holds and expresses those views about X’s mother.
- It was Ms R’s evidence that she thought that Mr Bell’s motivation in bringing the litigation was “two pronged” in that he genuinely wanted to have a relationship with X, but that in the absence of that relationship, it was important to him that his voice be heard in relation to the reason for X’s resistance to seeing him.
- That is not an unreasonable motivation, but on the basis of all the evidence before the court I find that at least part of his motivation has been to punish Ms Bell and cause her to spend money on these proceedings.
- His lack of insight about that issue is regrettable, as, indeed, is the lack of insight in his responses to any questioning of his motives or behaviour.
- It is to be hoped that Mr Bell will consider attending counselling or therapy himself in order to deal with those feelings towards Ms Bell, and any issues arising from his childhood, as they clearly stand in the way of X’s capacity to even consider a relationship with his father at this time in his life.
- There is a pattern in Mr Bell’s evidence of downplaying his own role in the dispute between him and his former wife in relation to X, and of attributing all of X’s behaviour in not wanting to see him as part of a “master plan” concocted by Ms Bell and X to remove him from X’s life.
- I cannot be satisfied, on the basis of the evidence before me, that Ms Bell has engaged in such a “master plan”, and I note that even Ms L does not support her husband in that view.
- There is no doubt that Mr Bell loves X, but his attempts at resolving the conflict between him and Ms Bell display an inability to empathise with her or X, or indeed anyone else unless they agree with his view of the world. There is a rigidity in his thinking patterns which simply does not allow for other people’s views or any suggestion that his own views may be wrong or at least that they may be less than completely correct.
- Ms Bell presented overall as a reasonable, though frustrated parent. Her evidence was nonetheless non-responsive and evasive at times, and it was very clear that she had no positive feelings at all about Mr Bell.
- The evidence of both her and Mr Bell indicates a reluctance on her part to positively intervene to foster the relationship between Mr Bell and X for many years, and it clear that she sees no benefit to X in pursuing that relationship.
- Ms Bell’s evidence about her experience of Mr Bell both during and after the marriage was cogent and consistent, and I accept her evidence that she feels some wariness, if not fear, about interacting with him.
- She did not show any obvious fear of Mr Bell when being cross-examined by him, but the tenor of her answers did indicate that wariness.
- The evidence of Mr B and Mr N, which I note was not challenged at trial although it was referenced repeatedly, is that there should be no orders for X to spend time with his father.
- Ms R, however, who was a most impressive witness in my view, was more willing to consider X’s views in the context of his maturational development, and it was her view that X requires therapy in order to fully realise his emotional potential.
- While Ms R was very clear that any ordered therapy should include issues X has with his father, it should not be solely directed towards X spending time with him.
- However, Ms R also agreed with counsel for the mother that there was a “calculated risk” in sending X to therapy, that he might rebel against that order, and that his views about his father may become even more entrenched.
- She was also clear that X should not spend time with his father in the current situation in which the parties find themselves, and indeed said that even indirect contact with his father at this time would be detrimental to X.
- On the basis of the expert evidence, I find that it would be enormously beneficial to X to engage in long term psychotherapy in order to help him understand and integrate his feelings towards his father. It is to be hoped that his mother will organise such therapy for X, and that his father will contribute to half of the cost of that therapy in order simply to help his son and to let him know that he loves and supports him.
- However, taking into account all of the above evidence, and keeping closely in mind the issues set out in s.60CC of the Act, I cannot be satisfied that it is in X’s best interests to force him to attend counselling with his father in order to repair their relationship.
- Given the complexities surrounding this litigation, X’s views the and his statements of non-compliance, the extreme animosity between the parents and the potential for future litigation because of that animosity, I find, on balance, that it is positively not in his best interests in all the circumstances to make such an order, and I therefore decline to do so.
- It has occurred to me many times throughout these proceedings that it might be said these parties, with their two very different and particular personalities, have created a “perfect storm” in their relationship.
- By that I mean it is not perhaps the fault of one or the other that X has found himself in the quite tragic position of having no relationship with his father, but that it is a combination of two strong and incompatible personalities that has led us to this point.
- The evidence before the court is that Mr Bell’s personality vulnerabilities as described by Dr P and Mr N, have combined with Ms Bell’s somewhat over protective parenting style to create a situation where each is quick to find fault with anything the other says or does.
- That has led to a complete lack of trust between these parties, the result of which is a level of animosity between them which is caustic and toxic, and which has landed X squarely in the middle of the dispute.
- X simply deserves better. At the age of 13½ he deserves to be exploring his world as an adolescent, with all the change, confusion and excitement that that brings, rather than being concerned about how his parents feel about each other.
- In some cases that come before this court, it is not possible to make orders which are actually in the “best” interests of the subject child or children. It is only possible to make orders which are in their “least worst” interests. This has been such a case.
- It is to be hoped that the orders I will make will provide some respite for X, although it is also to be hoped that his mother will seek for him, and for his sake, the therapy which Ms R sees as his only hope of a psychologically healthy future.
Family law Sunshine Coast
Family lawyer Sunshine Coast