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Badmouthing condemned, as dad’s bid to withhold kids from mum fails

By November 7, 2021February 23rd, 2024No Comments

A father who had been telling his children that their mother was a prostitute and did not care about them has found a court sanction his behaviour by removing the kids from his care and returning them to the mother. The court said it was “difficult to imagine less child-focused conduct by a parent” than telling kids their mother is a “whore”.

The matter (pseudonymised as Obana & Pedroni) is a parenting matter involving two kids, 10 and 6 years old. The children had been living with the mother and spending substantial time with the dad until he suddenly withheld them, forcing the mother to apply for a recovery order through the courts. The dad then responded by alleging the mother was working as a prostitute and was a chronic gambler. He made similar allegations to child welfare authorities but his allegations fell short of reaching a threshold to investigate the mother.

The father claimed there was ‘evidence’ of the mother being a prostitute in a series of text messages between the mother and several other men. But the court found they were not indicative of her working as a prostitute and could equally simply have been her dating other men. Similarly, there was no evidence the mother was a gambler.

The court said the father failed to show anything that would establish his allegation that the children were not safe in the mother’s care “because unknown men were coming to her house”.

It was found there was no evidence of men staying overnight with the mother. There was some evidence of her sometimes inviting men over but no evidence of overnight stays. When the children spoke with a family consultant for a Child Inclusive Conference Report, they didn’t recall anyone staying overnight.

The court dismissed the concerns over the mother’s possible sex work and said “the real danger to these children appears to be…from another direction. It appears the most pressing risk of harm to these children is from the father deliberately undermining the relationship between the children and the mother. There is abundant evidence of that.”

The court noted there was “very significant concern by the child welfare authorities that the children were being exposed to emotional harm, particularly Y, as a result of the father telling him that the mother was working as a prostitute.”

Children can unfortunately become caught up in the conflict between parents and be asked to take sides. This causes emotional harm, because children need to be able to maintain their positive relationship with each parent without being used as a weapon in the parental conflict.

In this case, the young son is already “showing signs of emotional harm in that he won’t speak to his mother any more having been told she is prostituting with other men and that the school has noted a change in Y’s behaviour and he is becoming unsettled at school which he was not [before]”.

The father’s actions have caused a lot of confusion for the youngsters, one of whom is too young to understand what “doing things with men for money” means. The daughter had only ever seen her mother talk to her male friends. The son had never seen her with men, only a single male friend who only sat in the living room with her and talked.

But now the boy is “unsure about whether he missed his mother. He told the family consultant she was not a good mother. He went on to say that his mother loved him, looked after he and his sister and cooked and cleaned. However, he went on to say “she is a prostitute” and his father had told him that his mother is a “whore”. 

The father has not acknowledged the potential damage to the children’s emotional wellbeing of them hearing him call the mother “a slut, a c*nt, a whore, and a prostitute”. Note that the mother in this case also engaged in making allegations about the father to the kids, namely that he drank to excess. The court noted this too was a concept that was too difficult for children to process, noting the authorities had expressed concerns over the consequent “impact on their ability to develop trusting relationships with each of their parents”. The parents were also ordered into attending parenting courses.

Is sex work frowned on in family court?

Would the outcome have been different if the mother had been confirmed to be working as a prostitute? Does parental sex work affect custody decisions? In the past, sex workers would have been much more vulnerable to discrimination in the family courts. These days, the answer is much more likely to be “no, not unless a child is at risk of being harmed”. The family courts and welfare services only care about the wellbeing of the children so unless there is evidence that a child is at risk of emotional or physical abuse or neglect, the courts cannot simply remove a child due to the stigma of a mother’s sex work.

As you can see from this judgment, the lingering ‘suspicion’ that a mother might be engaging in sex work was regarded as far less of a concern than the directly observed consequences of the father’s badmouthing of the mother to the children. This was regarded as so damaging that the children have been removed from the father and returned to the mother. 

You can read this judgment here.

If you need assistance with a 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 receive the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.


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