Key Words: Children;  alienation; therapeutic counselling; best interests of the children, application for visa for child

In Sandford & Cobb [2016] FamCA 11 (20 January 2016), the mother applied to have a transfer of a parenting proceeding from Brisbane to Townsville, along with interim orders to quickly obtain passports for her two children aged 10 and 8 in order to travel to Laos and other countries. The father opposed such application on the basis that he had not spent any time with his children for three years. Furthermore, he also sought orders to have the children resume spending time with him, which was supported by the Independent Children’s Lawyer who said that it was in the best interests of the children to have their father reintroduced.

The mother alleged that the father was violent towards her but was never violent towards their children, although they were present when the father was violent towards her. Following the separation, the father began spending time with the children but after the mother’s remarriage in 2011, the mother went to live in Country Z without informing the father. In order to obtain passport applications for the children, the mother asked the father to sign passport applications so that they can go on a family holiday to Singapore. It was not until after that the father found out that they were actually living in Country Z. In 2012, the mother and the children moved to City X to live, again without informing the father and in 2013, they moved to NSW, again without informing the father.

The father subsequently learned where the mother and the children were living through a Commonwealth information order and he commenced parenting proceedings in the Lismore registry of the Federal Circuit Court. As such, the ICL was appointed in 2014 and an interim order was made by consent for the children to spend supervised time with the father at a contact centre in Lismore. However, the mother did not facilitate any meeting and contact time with the father and a family report was ordered.  Th mother failed to attend the interviews with the family report writer and took the children overseas once again without the father’s consent. The matter was subsequently transferred to the Family Court. The mother returned to City X with her children in 2015 and it was ordered by consent that the mother contact Centrecare to engage in counselling therapy there.

The Court concluded that for the best interests of the two children, a reintroduction to spending time with their father through a therapeutic process was recommended. However, due to the open-ended time frame along with the mother’s clear view that the children should spend no time with their father, no actual progress was made towards the children spending time with their father. Without a set plan, there was a real risk of the children becoming completely estranged from their father.

As such, the Court ordered that Centacare appoint counsellors to provide therapeutic counselling for the mother, father and children. Contact with the children was initially supervised by Centacare and to begin during Easter holiday two months thereafter. Furthermore, it was ordered that the mother was to refer to him as their ‘father’ or ‘dad’ when talking to the children and to have their children’s family names on their school registration records to be recorded as the father’s surname.

The mother’s application for a change of venue from Lismore to Townsville and her application for an order for passports for the children were dismissed as there was insufficient evidence to show that the children’s best interests were to be taken out of school and the mother’s several moves overseas without the father’s approval were of concern. The children were also ordered to be included on the Federal Police Watch List.

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