Can a tightly-held belief derail your parenting?
Parenting after a relationship breakdown can be tricky, and for some parents it’s made even harder by the tightly-held beliefs of the other parent. One parent may be absolutely convinced the other parent has damaged or hurt the child in some way, even though that’s not the case.
Some parents even actively “campaign” against the other parent, which is called Parental Alienation Syndrome. See out Previous Article on ‘What is parental Alienation?‘.
There are a number of ways in which one parent can attempt to influence their child against the other parent. Tactics include:
- Denigrating the other parent in front of the child.
- Encroaching on the other parent’s designated time with the child, for example, by withholding access or even excessively texting the other parent during their time with the child.
- Encouraging the child to keep secrets from the other parent.
If left unchecked, parental alienation syndrome could also become an inter-generational problem, affecting relationships within a family for the rest of their lives.
In one case (Lankester & Cribb) the mother had an unsubstantiated belief that the father had sexually abused their child.
There was no medical evidence to support the mother’s ongoing allegations, despite a number of tests and examinations.
The judge decided that the child needed to be “protected from the continued likely escalation of that emotional manipulation and harm, and the likely destruction of her relationship with her father”.
The child was removed from the primary care of the mother in favour of the father, and was also prevented from seeing the mother for a set period of time.
The judge recognised that a change in living arrangements would involve “grief, loss, confusion, a high level of stress, intrusive thoughts about the mother and missing the mother constantly”.
But this was “outweighed by the risks that presented for her in the mother’s primary care, including the need for the child to conform to the mother’s views, that were psychologically and emotionally damaging to her”.
In another case, the court had made orders that the mother have sole parental responsibility and the child was not to spend any time at all with the father.
The child, aged 7, had been diagnosed with autism and ADHD and could be violent at school and towards the mother. The mother also had health issues, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the violence she experienced during her relationship with the father.
The father had not been involved in the child’s life for six years, and the mother told the court that having the child spend time with the father would “trigger her PTSD, which would in turn affect her parenting capacity.”
The court had to balance two primary considerations – the benefit to the child of having a ‘meaningful relationship with both parents’ and the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm.
The court accepted the mother’s beliefs and the recommendation of the family report writer, that if the court ordered the child ‘spend time’ with the father, there was a high risk the mother would be “unable to cope” and would therefore be unable to care for the child.
On that basis, the court determined that any benefit to the child of having a relationship with the father was outweighed by the likely risk to the child’s continuity of care.
In a third recent case, (Keane & Keane) the mother had alleged her husband had been violent towards her and had also sexually abused their child.
She held firm in this belief, despite giving what the court called “palpably unreliable evidence” that was at times “vague, contradictory and had the appearance of embellishment”.
The judge concluded that while the father had committed acts of family violence on the mother shortly before and after they separated, the possibility of inappropriate behaviour towards their child was “so unlikely that it cannot establish any real chance of sexual abuse”.
However the court did accept that should the child spend time with the father, the mother would need “substantial assistance” and counselling to accept the decision and manage her anxiety about the custody arrangements.
These are complex matters and of course, if a child is in danger the parents, police and courts should act immediately to protect that child. However, actively turning your child against the other parent does not benefit the child and will affect them for many years to come. Working out a viable co-parenting strategy, if it’s safe to do so, is the best way to move forward after a relationship breakdown.
If you need advice on any of these issues, or any other matter relating to family law, please contact the experts at Michael Lynch Family Lawyers on: (07) 3221 4300 or email: [email protected]