Sydney, NSW -- (SBWIRE) -- 09/30/2013 -- A couple separated and divorced as soon as their daughter was born. For two years after their separation, they effectively and equally shared the parental responsibility for their daughter. Until one day, the daughter who was then five years old began telling her father stories which the father interpreted to mean that their daughter was exposed to inappropriate sexual images while living with her mother.
The father then went to Family Court to ask that parental responsibility for their daughter be given to him to the exclusion of his wife on the ground of her committing acts which exposed their child to inappropriate sexual images. Naturally, the mother was aghast and appalled at the allegations and bitterly contested the father’s application.
The Family Court ordered the parties to speak with the Family Consultant who reported that the parties are unable to cooperate or even communicate with each other because of the deep level of mistrust between them. The Family Court also probed the allegations of significant risk of harm to the child; particularly, the Court wanted to know the facts surrounding the alleged inappropriate sexual images. The Family Consultant reported that from her interviews with the child and the father, there seems to real risk of exposure of the child to inappropriate sexual images. And that the entire controversy hinged upon the interpretation of the father of a story their child told.
When this issue had been settled by the Court, the parties were more relaxed and more amenable to compromise. The first thing they had to understand was that equal shared parental responsibility did not meant equal time spent with each parent. What it meant was that all the major decisions about the child’s welfare will be shared between the parents. It also meant that even if the parental responsibility over the child were equally shared between the parents, the child will still have to live with one parent. Both agreed that their daughter should live with the mother.
After more consultations with the Family Consultant the only issues remaining between the parties are: how many nights the child would spend with each parent and how often the arrangement was to take place; how the child’s summer holidays will be shared between the parties; where the child would go to school.
The mother wanted the child to attend a private Christian school as she was also a Christian and she wanted her child to be raised with Christian values. The father thought that strong religious beliefs are being unduly thrust upon the child at such a young age when she cannot, as yet, think critically about it. The father was of the opinion that the child should be sent to public school as the child will be exposed to different beliefs. He thought that the child should attend a Christian school when she was in the secondary level.
The court resolved this difference between them by noting that in order to send the child to the private Christian school the parents would have to spend nearly $4,500 yearly in fees. The father and the mother are both unemployed at the moment and neither of them can afford to send the child to a private school. The mother conceded and agreed to enroll the child in public school but insisted on a school that was nearer her home and that the child be allowed to enroll in Scripture classes. The father insisted that the child be enrolled in a school nearer his home. Again, the court intervened and pointed out that it makes more sense for the child to be enrolled in a school nearer the mother’s house as the child spends more time with the mother than with the father.
This discussion led to the issue of how many nights each week the child should stay with the father and which nights would be the most appropriate. The mother thought that since the child will be enrolled in public school and not in a Christian school, she should have the child with her on Sunday mornings so that she can attend church with her. She proposed that the child be picked up from school regularly every other week by the father on Thursday so that she can stay with her father until Sunday morning when the mother will pick her up en route to church.
Initially the father protested that three nights every other week was unacceptable as he needed time to engage in activities with their child amongst her relatives on her father’s side. He wanted Sundays as well so that the child can meet with his relatives. The court intervened by stating that church with the mother on Sundays was a point of compromise on the issue of where the child should be sent to school.
The court had to remind the parties to be open-minded and to deal with each other in the spirit of good faith and cooperation so that the child will not be able to pit one parent against another when she wants her way. The court had to remind the parents to be mature and think of the best interests of the child instead of their own interests. In the end the father agreed and final orders were issued to reflect the agreement reached by the parties on these issues of conflict.
Married couples often have disagreements about how to raise their children. When these parents divorce or when they separate, the potential for conflict as to child rearing is heightened with the strained relations of trust between the parties. It is difficult for parents who have hurt each other to deal cordially with each other when their children’s interests are in issue. And yet, this is what is required by the law: that parents cooperate with each other in raising their children even when they are divorced so that the child can have a sense of stability and security in his home life. To this end, the Courts will exert all efforts to bring parents to compromise and cooperate for the best interest of their child.
Alan Weiss established aussiedivorce.com.au in 2005. Today, we are Australia leading boutique family law website. We have family lawyers in Sydney, family lawyers in Melbourne, family lawyers in Brisbane.
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