In a Family Court decision, her Honour Justice Rees has taken what at first blush may seem the unusual step of banning a mother from going to at her child’s school.
With a closer information about the facts of the case, the Judge’s decision is, perhaps, not quite so surprising.
The case, known by the Court as Materazzi v Suskain (although they are not the parties’ real names), involved an eight-year-old child, about whom parenting orders had previously been made by the Family Court in April 2011.
The April 2011 Orders provided for the child to live with the father and spend time with the mother each alternate weekend from after school Friday until before school Monday and from after school Thursday to before school Friday in the other week.
Since those orders were made, the mother:
Despite requests and correspondence from both the father and the school, the mother persisted in such activities, stating that she would continue to attend the child’s school whenever she wished. She told the Court that she kept the child home from school and picked her up early on other days because she wanted to spend more time with the child.
Both the father and the school were concerned that it was not in the child’s best interest for her to continue to miss approximately one day of school each week, nor to have her school days interrupted by her mother.
If the mother’s actions were, indeed, prompted by her desire to spend more time with her daughter, those actions would suggest a lack of insight by the mother into the child’s best interests and an inability on the mother’s part to place the child’s best interests ahead of her wishes.
In making a Parenting Order, the Court’s primary consideration must be a child’s best interests. In this case, the Court shared the concerns of the father and the school about the impact of the mother’s behaviour on the child and her schooling.
To redress that negative impact, Justice Rees amended the April 2011 parenting orders such that the child would not spend overnight time with the mother immediately before a school day. That is, the mother’s time with the child was reduced to every second weekend from after school Friday until 7 pm Sunday and every alternate Thursday from after school until 7 pm. Furthermore, the Court issued an injunction restraining the mother from approaching, attending at and removing the child from her school.
While that fact of this case is possibly extreme, it is nevertheless a useful reminder to separated parents that the Court’s primary consideration is the child’s best interests, not a parent’s wishes, and sometimes the child’s best interests can result in the child spending less time with one of his or her parents. It is crucial for parents’ post-separation actions to be a child -, not self, focused as possible.