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Children and custodyDomestic violence

International relocation permitted in family violence case

By May 8, 2019February 23rd, 2024No Comments

A father with a lengthy criminal history of violence against his partners has described himself in court as “a changed man” but has failed to convince the judge that he is not an unacceptable risk of harm to his three year old daughter. As  a consequence he has now lost the chance to be a part of his daughter’s life after the mother was permitted to relocate to the Netherlands with the girl to “provide the mother and child with a level of protection”. The father is now forbidden from spending any time with the daughter and can only communicate with her with the mother’s permission. The court also noted the case highlights the need for staff at supervision centres to be better trained in recognising the way that charismatic people are able to manipulate others, with staff found to have been swayed by the father towards expressing bias against the mother.

In the case of Gunst & Dittersdorf (court-ordered pseudonyms) in the family court at Brisbane, it was heard that the couple had separated in the Netherlands after which the father returned to Australia and started proceedings under the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The girl was ordered to be returned to Australia so that parenting applications could be heard in her country of habitual residence. Interim orders were then made for supervised time but this has now been rejected.

The 34 year old father has a history of violence going back to when he was 17, and five of his previous partners had obtained domestic violence protection orders against him. He has repeatedly breached the DVOs and bail conditions and despite having completed two anger management courses, has continued to offend including against his new partner. In this regard the judge noted:

“One can only wonder at the utility of requiring someone with the father’s mindset to undertake anger management courses. Clearly he has learnt nothing and he rejected the opinion of [the expert] that he required further therapy.”

Indeed, he blamed his partners for his behaviour, stating:

“I have reflected on the women that I have dated and I think that I have had a fairly poor choice in the women that I have dated in the past and definitely also need to look at that going into the future as well.”

The judge in the case said the father admitted to verbal abuse of his partners “but gave me the clear impression he did not consider verbal abuse to be particularly serious…The father’s response to the many allegations of violence against him by his former partners was to repeatedly state – “I have never hit a woman”. The father did not demonstrate any comprehension of the destructive nature of demeaning, insulting and abusive language on a person, let alone on someone he supposedly loved.”

The judge praised the mother’s “extraordinary fortitude in facilitating the child developing a relationship with the father despite the mother’s fear of the father. While understandably reticent, the mother abided by court orders for supervised time”.

Finding the father’s lack of insight or remorse for his behaviour meant that he posed an unacceptable risk of physical and psychological abuse to his daughter, the judge rejected the idea that this could be ameliorated with supervision and said she did not consider it in the child’s best interests to have any relationship with her father.

The man was described by many of his former partners as initially charming and charismatic, features which the judge noted had also been apparent in his dealings with staff at the child contact centres where the supervised visits had taken place.

“Clearly his charisma was on full display during the supervised visits with his daughter…I have found that the father has the ability to manipulate people into thinking he is the innocent party and deserving of sympathy.”

The judge took the opportunity to criticise the supervision staff, noting that one of the supervisors “was highly critical of the mother and I consider her comments about the mother to be both ill-informed and exceeding her remit”.  The judge expressed the view that the supervision staff had been manipulated by the father, and encouraged the staff members “to reflect on their roles and encourage them to undergo further training so that they understand the need for impartiality at all times”.

Disturbingly, the mother had been described by staff as “extremely controlling” and “undermining of any healthy co-parenting where the father was concerned”. She was described as having been “observed to be using very restrictive gatekeeping where the mother is not supportive of the father’s involvement; does not recognize the value of the father for the child’s development; and is actively hindering the father’s involvement”. She was further described as “irrational” and having a “style of high conflict parenting”. On the other hand the father was described as “reasonable and polite to all, rational to communicate and deal with, as well as organised, punctual, and sensible with all matters pertaining to the child and supervised contact”. He was described as having a “calm demeanour” and as not being “rancorous towards his now ex-wife”. He told staff his mother had “always taught him coping strategies rather than anger”. The judge said that comment was “deserving of derision”.

“The fact that the father is capable of presenting in such a positive light causes me to have significant concerns about whether supervision is able to protect the child from the father in the future”.

You can read the case in its entirety here.

You may also like to read our blog: Building your case for parental relocation.

If you need help with a relocation matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services 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 Legal Services.

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