The original orders made in 2011 facilitated the children living with the mother and spending time with the father. However, by August 2014 all contact with the father had ceased and he filed for contravention of the orders.
In 2016 Judge Riethmuller who, after considering all the evidence over a five-day hearing, determined that it was in the best interests of the children for them to have a relationship with both parents and as such, could only be facilitated if the parenting was reversed.
The mother appealed the decision to the Full Court of the Family Court in 2017, however the original decision was upheld and the children remain in the primary care of the father.
The decision in Ralton was so extreme in its nature, that Judge Reithmuller had the children sequestered in a private room within the court building – supported by psychologists and social workers – as the decision was handed down.
The details of this case were such that even though the mother was a competent parent and able to meet the day to day needs of the children, her actions in making the children fearful and anxious of the father created a damaging psychological impact. The grief and loss associated with removing the children from the mother’s primary care was considered far less than the long-term psychological effects of the alienation from their father.
In order to help the children bond adequately with the father, the mother was ordered to have no contact with the children for six months, followed by a supervised period of reintegration.
Recognising the importance of a healthy relationship between children and both parents, the Family Law Amendment Act, 2006 was enacted by the Howard government to facilitate shared parenting. The legislation is sound, however if one or both parents refuse to put the best interests of the child first, it is frequently tested.
While as a society we have previously believed that a mother is the more natural choice for primary carer, it is no longer guaranteed that sole parental responsibility will be granted to the mother on primary attachment alone. Fathers have demonstrated that they are, of course, capable of the job and willing to take it on, so much so that the Courts are willing to make that transition.
Co-parenting after separation is essential in maintaining a healthy family dynamic for the children. Historically, parents have really struggled with the concept, particularly where one party is aggrieved with the amount of time they spend with their children. Our Family Law experts’ experience allows us to assist our clients in better managing the practicalities of co-parenting and our top tips are:
The less challenging matters that we come across all have one thing in common, being – that the parents talk to each other – and on a regular basis. Pick a mode of communication that works for the both of you and stick to it. And do not use the children as a conduit to pass on messages! Not only are messages often relayed incorrectly, but using the children as a messenger almost always guarantees a heightened conflict situation, one in which the children will witness. Have you ever received a message through your child of which leads you to mutter something unpleasant under your breath only to realise that your child is still standing there?
Instead, you can schedule a weekly phone call with the other parent and make it a routine. Even parents that have the most trouble communicating with each other find that they are able to keep their discussions cordial whilst they discuss their children. If the idea of using the telephone sends shivers up your spine, then we recommend using email, an instant messenger service or a hand-written communication diary that travels with the children between homes. There are also a range of digital co-parenting apps on the market, which we will road-test in another article.
Try and keep changeovers short and sweet. Make sure you flash the children a smile so they won’t feel guilty about going with the other parent.
Try not to argue about parenting arrangements in front of the children. If the other parent wants to take the children to a one-off special event that you know the children will enjoy, but the special event falls outside of the parents scheduled time, let the children go. Sure – try not to stretch the friendship in this regard, always give plenty of notice and always ensure that make-up time has been scheduled. Your children will thank you for putting their enjoyment ahead of your own.
Facilitating communication with the other parent whilst the children are in your care is a must. Make sure you share special moments or accomplishments with the other parent, even if it is just via sending them photos or emails and make a point of telling the children that you are doing so. Remind the children of special occasions, like the other parent’s birthday and help them make or choose a special gift. Being present when the children give the gift to the other parent is also a special touch. Having the children feel that they can express their love to the other parent freely and openly without fear of being admonished is essential to a healthy and positive co-parenting arrangement.