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Brave mother praised for selfless child-focussed consent orders

By December 16, 2020February 23rd, 2024No Comments

Consent orders: A mother who has been completely rejected by her daughters since separating from their father has agreed to consent orders which have “nothing in them for her”. The experts in the matter, though, as well as the judge who formalised the consent orders, have commended the mother for her agreement to an outcome that essentially deprives her of a relationship with her children at the moment, in the hopes that interventions and a “time of stability” for the children will pave a way for future reconciliation and healing. In a case where the father has been shown to bear responsibility for the damaged relationship that the children now have with their mother, you may be wondering why it was seen as a good thing for the father to have full custody and the children only to spend time with their mother if they wish to—which they currently do not. Let’s take a look at what happened in this case.

The case, given the pseudonym Imbardelli & Imbardelli, involved a former couple and their daughters, one aged 10 and twins aged 11. Three family reports were prepared in the matter and all experts found that the children showed significant evidence of a strong alliance with the father and an almost total rejection of the mother. It was found that the girls had formed “a one-dimensional experience of their mother from the perspective of significant bias”.

The experts referred to a “lack of connection and a level of disinterest between the children and their mother and noted the children having a dominant place in the family system and sensed the interactions between the mother and the children carried a sense of orchestration and manipulation [from the children]”. The children also demonstrated enmeshment with the dad “to the point of ‘inappropriateness’”.

The judge described the situation as “appalling and lamentable”.

Did deliberate Parental Alienation cause the alignment?

The experts were in agreement the responsibility lies with the father but were not certain that the father had “purposefully and consciously orchestrated” the alignment. Rather, it seems the perfect storm of a father’s dominant, controlling personality, his lack of insight, and negative aspects of his “automatic behaviour” (an example is when he handed the kids their iPad just before an observational session with their mother, so that they pretty much ignored the mother during the session to instead focus on the device.) The children further were aware of the father’s feelings towards their mum and “felt compelled to demonstrate their loyalty to him”. And the father had “missed opportunities to act in a supportive manner towards the relationship between the children and the mother”.

Why should the children now not see the mother?

The experts told the court that the distress shown by the children in relation to their mother was genuine and that the level of alignment and enmeshment means that it is in the children’s best interests to pause the previous spend-time arrangements with the mother for now:

“[It] is in the children’s best interest at this time is for them to enjoy a period of time where they do not feel the need to behave in a particular way towards their mother in order to remain secure in their relationship with their father.”

Further, the children had been exposed to “a number of assessments and reports…in a short period of time” and it was felt by the experts that a period with no further therapy occurring was in the girls’ best interests.

The experts were at pains to point out to the mother that the “current situation has not arisen as a result of her incapacity to provide…appropriate care, due to her own shortcomings or as a matter of choice by the children, rather it has developed over time in an environment of complicated interpersonal human relations”.

They also noted that “the orders do provide a way forward for the mother to have contact with the children and to develop a relationship over time. These children are still quite young, but as they grow and they see her at particular events and they have the opportunity to approach her – as they have the opportunity to receive emails, gifts and the like – that hopefully, together with his attendance in the program and her continual addressing of any mental health needs that she has, that they will be able to form a relationship”.

As the judge noted:

“The process of repairing relationships can be a long and complicated one and would always need to be approached gently and sensitively, and stands the best chance of success when all parties are agreeable to the process beginning.”

It appears that the mother has very selflessly taken the experts’ advice and chosen the most amicable and sensitive way forward for the children, so that she can work towards repairing the relationship with her little girls—despite what must be a very painful result for her personally.

Risks to children of rejecting a relationship with a parent

There is plenty of research pointing to the risks to children of rejecting one parent over the other. Risks include:

  • a detrimental impact on the child developing a sense of self;
  • a child being more vulnerable to developing mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression and problematic personality traits;
  • the child being more vulnerable to drug and alcohol issues;
  • experiencing complex grief reactions and disruptions to their own intimate relationships into the future

Further, there remains the possibility that when children reach adulthood and can understand the issues better, they may then reject the parent they were previously aligned to.

What is expected of the father now?

It’s hoped that individual interventions ordered for the father will help him develop insight into the vital importance of them re-establishing a relationship with their mother, for them to develop “a healthy sense of identity, purpose, and future intimate relationships”. The orders provide for the father to actively do all things necessary to facilitate this happening, and to enrol in and complete a Parenting Orders Program. It’s hoped that such interventions will help him develop insight into “his responsibility for the predicament that…these girls find themselves in”.

The father needs to see the risks to the children in the situation remaining as it is. Unfortunately, the family consultant’s “overall impression of the father is that [the father] believes that the children don’t need a relationship with their mother and that he can provide – he and his family – can provide all that they need”. Therefore, the family consultant said, “the father needs to have a really good, hard look at himself and have a really good think about what he does from now on to ameliorate that situation. Because the fact is, these children do need their mother and there are risks to them – there are risks to their relationship with their mother, and there are also risks to his relationship with these girls at some point in the future if that situation is not changed.”

The father needs to “make sure that these girls understand that they need to have a relationship with their mother and that everybody believes that that’s the case. And that it’s not a situation where they can just walk away from her… He needs to give the right message to these children – that their mother loves them, misses them, and that they need to have a relationship with her.”

In addition, the experts said the father needed to “acknowledge and pay tribute to the mother for the very difficult and very courageous decision that she has made today in agreeing to the orders that she has”, which “require her for now to walk away from a relationship with her daughters”:

“It’s a tribute to her that she has been able to put aside her own interests and her own desires and understand that at the moment, this is the best that we can do for those girls.”

Explaining the outcome to the children

Due to the nature of the outcome, the Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) would explain the final orders to the children so that they understood that their mother loves them and has not walked away from them and has not abandoned a relationship with them. The ICL would likely emphasise to the girls that it’s in their best interests to see their mother in the future and ideally reconcile and repair that relationship.

Further the ICL would also ensure the children understood that this decision was not made by them, because “that’s an awful burden for these little girls to have to shoulder”:

“They might think that that’s what they want, but they don’t have the cognitive capacity really to understand the ramifications of that. And it’s not good for them to have to walk away thinking that they’ve made this decision.”

Child-focussed property orders

The former couple entered into consent orders relating to both parenting and property. Similarly to the parenting orders, the wife agreed to a property settlement that was not favourable to her, but rather “at the bottom end of the range which can be considered just and equitable”, on the basis that she recognised that the father had financial responsibility for the children and that the children should benefit from the assets.

Her lawyer told the court that the wife also hopes that “if the husband can see that she has not been greedy, that perhaps gives some further scintilla of hope that there might be a change of attitude in terms of the ability to encourage the girls’ relationship with her”. Again on this issue, the wife was repeatedly praised for taking such a child-focussed attitude.

What a heart-breaking situation for this mother. One hopes that the experts got it right and that this agreed outcome eventually leads to healing. In some cases where there is alignment like this, whether deliberate or not, courts will instead reverse custody to drastically change the dynamics.

You can read the judgment in this case in full here.

Do you need help with a parenting or other family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.

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