Parenting orders and impact on children

Cautionary note: some people may find reading these victim experiences distressing or traumatising.

These de-identified victim experiences summarise the content of interviews undertaken with people who have experienced domestic and family violence and legal system engagement. The interviewees’ names and some minor details of their narratives have been changed to protect their identities. In many cases the names have been selected by the interviewees.

The key words align with the contents covered in the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book.

  • Bianca and Tom were in a relationship for 13 years and have three children who were between pre and primary school age at separation. Both Bianca and Tom are tertiary educated with professional qualifications. Apart from when the children were infants, Bianca worked in professional, well-remunerated employment and was the sole income earner for most of the relationship. Tom had worked sporadically early in the relationship but stopped working soon after the birth of their first child and hasn’t worked since.

    Bianca met Tom through a mutual friend when she was in her late teens. It was her first intimate relationship. Tom had been in a previous relationship where his partner alleged domestic violence. Bianca says she has always been a high energy, driven sort of person who likes to get things done. Tom on the other hand lacks motivation and found employment difficult to maintain despite being highly intelligent. Bianca tended to ‘mother’ Tom from early in the relationship and took on all of the household duties while also working full-time, without being conscious of or concerned by the imbalance. This however emerged as a problem after the birth of their first child when Bianca’s attentions necessarily turned to the baby, and she began asking Tom to help around the house. He mostly resisted, and when Bianca insisted, he did so begrudgingly. Even when Bianca was recovering from C-section births, Tom would refuse to bring the baby to her for feeding during the night, claiming there was no point in both of them being tired.

    Over time, Bianca and Tom argued often about the division of labour. As the demands of children and work grew, Bianca felt that Tom’s failure to contribute in any useful way was unreasonable and intolerable. Tom claimed Bianca was constantly nagging him and trying to control him, and he would frequently become angry and verbally abusive towards her. She had experienced trauma as a child and suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for many years as a result. Before and after the birth of their third child, Bianca began experiencing anxiety and panic attacks reminiscent of her earlier years. When hospitalised, she felt a sense of safety and calm that she realised was absent from her home life. Tom resented her time in hospital; he told her she needed to get over it, and that it was too much for him to have to look after the house and children while she was away receiving treatment.

    After Bianca and Tom built their home on a small rural block, Tom developed an obsession with guns. He purchased five guns and went hunting most weekends. Tom’s firearms licence required him to secure the guns in a safe in the house; Bianca had to constantly ensure that he complied with these requirements as he was lax. Tom regularly spoke about guns and shooting in conversation, he read books about serial killers and snipers, he would make home-made guns in his shed, and he even explained to Bianca on one occasion the steps involved in administering lethal poison without leaving a trace. As their relationship deteriorated, Bianca observed veiled threats in these behaviours and found them intimidating and troubling. During the relationship, Tom shot and killed Bianca’s dog and pony for no valid reason. He also deliberately released her hand-raised cockatiel into the wild.

    Bianca describes three physically violent incidents that occurred in the course of an otherwise increasingly dysfunctional relationship. As the situation worsened, Bianca felt she was constantly ‘walking on eggshells’ around Tom, trying to placate him and take the pressure off him so as to avoid any escalation of his anger, but his behaviour continued.

    The first incident was when Bianca and Tom’s first child was aged two. They had been arguing and Tom picked Bianca up under her arms and threw her across the room and into a door frame, causing bruising to the back of her head. Tom is more than a foot taller than Bianca, thick set, muscular and immensely strong. Bianca was in shock and terrified; she retreated to the other end of the house unable to comprehend what had happened. In the days following she sought help from a counsellor (who she continued to see for many years) and told Tom that it must never happen again.

    The second incident was some years later, by which stage they had three young children. Bianca had arrived home late after a long and demanding day at work. Tom hadn’t fed the children or made any attempt to prepare them for bed; the house was in chaos and Tom was playing violent computer games. Bianca was angry and frustrated with Tom’s selfishness and lack of effort. Tom called her a ‘fat cunt’ (knowing that this was particularly hurtful to Bianca who had suffered an eating disorder) and pushed her into the wall. In front of the children, he threatened to shoot himself in the head, and then walked out to the car parked in the yard. He was due to go hunting the next morning and he normally locked his guns in the car the night before. Bianca feared that he was going to retrieve a gun from the car and carry out his threat of suicide, so she rang the ambulance. Multiple ambulance and police officers arrived. Tom was taken to the hospital for review and then spent a couple of nights at his mother’s house. On this occasion, Bianca did not tell police about the violence and abuse in the relationship; she didn’t want to get Tom into trouble or make him angrier and therefore more abusive. She felt that if she decided to leave, she would need a plan to get away quickly to somewhere safe.

    After the second incident, Bianca rang a domestic violence support service for some advice about how she might safely leave the relationship. Bianca believed they were more interested in reporting the incident to child safety than giving her any support as the victim of abuse. She felt insulted that a judgement had been made about her ability to protect her children and that she may be exposing them to harm by staying with a suicidal partner.

    Bianca decided she needed to address the relationship problems with Tom before making any other decisions about leaving. She wrote him a letter and let him know that she wouldn’t tolerate verbal or physical abuse and that they needed marriage counselling. Tom agreed and for a time, things improved between them. Soon enough though, Bianca reverted to taking on most of the household and parenting responsibilities and continuing to work full-time so as to avoid any instance where Tom may become angry and abusive. Tom spent most of his days playing computer games even when their youngest child was home from pre-school. The relationship deteriorated further: the arguments continued, and Bianca discovered that, at two separate times, Tom had placed a key logger on her computer in order to log her internet activity. When confronted, Tom claimed that he was trying to keep Bianca safe, a story she rejected. She told him she had nothing to hide, he could have all her passwords, but it was not acceptable for him to secretly monitor her.

    One night, after a particularly heated argument, the third incident occurred. Tom started drinking scotch and went on to drink most of the bottle. He rarely drank alcohol; this was out of character. As Tom became more intoxicated, he became emotional about his past failed relationships. He said he should just die, and could understand how murder-suicides happen. He also threatened to wake the children up and ask them which parent they loved most. Bianca was very concerned by this talk, but felt it was likely to be caused by the alcohol, so suggested to Tom that he go to bed. She then tried to get up from the couch and Tom grabbed her tightly by the wrists and held her in place for three hours, both by the wrists and through the weight of his body on hers. Meanwhile, he used Bianca’s hands to hit himself hard and repeatedly in the face, saying ‘I’d rather you punch me than leave me’. Bianca’s hands turned blue, and despite her pleading, Tom would not release his grip, saying he couldn’t let her go because she would escape and the police would take his guns away. Later, Bianca pleaded with him not to kill her, at which point he released his hands and placed them around her throat, squeezing tightly and saying ‘you stupid woman, of course I’m not going to kill you; the reason I haven’t already is that I don’t want to’. Terrified for her life, Bianca decided to try and settle Tom down: telling him it was all a misunderstanding, that they could work it out in the morning after some sleep. Tom grabbed her by the wrists again and dragged her down the hall and into bed with him where he continued holding her. Bianca waited for him to fall asleep, got her phone out of her back pocket, switched it to silent mode, and texted two friends she knew would respond at that hour of night. They called the police and Bianca fled to the neighbour’s house and waited. She felt she had no other choice, but was also extremely worried that Tom would wake up and a hostage situation may arise given that the children were still asleep in the house.

    The police arrived promptly; they removed Tom and took him to the watch house and located the guns. The police initiated a protection order application on Bianca’s behalf and the matter was dealt with the following day. Bianca was traumatised and exhausted and unable to properly process what was going on. The magistrate told Tom he didn’t have to agree to an order naming the children as it would have family law implications for him. The police prosecutor asked Bianca if she would agree to a one-year order without admissions where the children weren’t named. She wanted the matter over and felt sorry for Tom who was crying, so she agreed. Bianca later regretted this decision as the ‘no admissions’ condition meant that she had no evidence of domestic and family violence that she could use to substantiate her claims in the subsequent parenting proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court. She was however satisfied that it was appropriate not to have the children named on the protection order as she was and remains committed to the children having a relationship with their father. Bianca was informed by police shortly after Tom’s guns were confiscated that they had been released to Tom’s brother (with Tom’s consent), who holds a valid gun license. In releasing Tom’s guns to his brother, Bianca is concerned that he now has ready access to them.

    On the evening of the third incident the police had asked Bianca if she wanted to have Tom charged with deprivation of liberty. She declined, and police did not take any steps to obtain evidence of the offence, for example photos of bruising on Bianca’s wrists caused by Tom’s grip. Some months later however, after time with her counsellor, Bianca made a complaint and gave a statement. Tom was represented, and on advice on the morning of the trial, accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to common assault in lieu of deprivation of liberty. No conviction was recorded and Tom was ordered to observe a six month good behaviour bond and pay a $500 fine. For Bianca, this was some acknowledgement of Tom’s violence towards her, though somewhat mitigated; and she avoided the ordeal of cross-examination, which she had endured from Tom personally only weeks earlier at the hearing for the variation of the police-initiated protection order.

    Bianca applied prior to its expiration to vary the police-initiated protection order by extending it for another year. The magistrate refused to grant a temporary order to bridge the gap between lodgement and expiry, insisting that the matter be heard. Tom made a cross application alleging abuse by Bianca in the form of name calling. Both applications were heard together. Bianca prepared all of her own affidavit material and engaged a barrister for the hearing. Bianca felt highly distressed and vulnerable in the courtroom and PTSD evidence was tendered to support a claim for protected witness status. The magistrate rejected the submission concluding that Bianca was articulate and intellectually well-equipped and did not require protection during the proceedings. As a result, Tom, self-represented in this matter, was permitted to cross examine Bianca for three hours. Tom taunted and demeaned her with his questions—Bianca felt it was another version of the abuse she had long-experienced—and the magistrate gave him considerable leeway. Bianca felt that the magistrate was demonstrating the need for procedural fairness, but equally that her evidence had been taken seriously. The Magistrate granted Bianca the one-year extension and dismissed Tom’s application.

    While the criminal and protection order matters were being dealt with, Bianca sought to address parenting and property issues.

    A property settlement was reached with Tom fairly quickly, though Bianca queries its fairness. They jointly owned an unencumbered house worth $300,000. Bianca was the sole income earner and principal homemaker throughout the relationship. Tom made negligible homemaker contributions and earned no income. Bianca had accumulated $160,000 in super. Tom received the unencumbered house property, and Bianca received $85,000 in cash (paid by Tom’s mother) and some furniture of little value.

    The parenting proceedings were more prolonged and complex, requiring an interim and final hearing in the Federal Circuit Court. Essentially, Bianca sought to relocate to an area where she felt safer while maintaining her job position and yet still continuing the arrangements with Tom for some weekend contact. Relocation necessarily involved the children changing schools, and this became a central issue of contention. At the interim hearing, Bianca was ordered to resume living with the children in a certain area and to return them to the local primary school. The interim order was very difficult for Bianca because it meant that she had to live in a small, rural town close to Tom and his family; she avoided going to shops or community spaces for fear of coming into contact with them. She needed medication to cope with her heightened anxiety. These circumstances continued for more than a year pending the final hearing and orders. After considerable expense and time, the final orders endorsed Bianca’s initial application. She and the children, and her new partner and his two children, now live in the area she originally proposed, and Tom’s contact arrangements continue unchanged.

    Bianca and her new partner have bought a house, and they are settling in well together with their children as a combined family, while contact arrangements with Tom are mostly straightforward and without incident. Tom’s moods around contact times remain unpredictable, and Bianca has developed ways of dealing with his moods so that her safety isn’t compromised.

    For the past five years post separation, Tom commenced a campaign of complaints to QPS and Child Safety regarding allegations of risk to the children in Bianca’s care. While the process of investigation of Tom’s complaints by these systems was humiliating and stressful for Bianca, both QPS and Child Safety have deemed Tom’s complaints unsubstantiated on each occasion. Bianca has experienced numerous police welfare checks at her home, and felt violated by the unnecessary intrusion of these systems into her private life once again. Recently Tom has been encouraging the children to use their smart phones to covertly record their mother in her home and to ‘airdrop’ these recordings to him. Tom continues to denigrate Bianca and her partner in the children’s presence. Bianca is concerned about the emotional harm caused to the children through their continued involvement by Tom and worries about the long-term psychological impact of Tom’s sustained manipulation of the children upon them. It is difficult for Bianca to effectively parent under these circumstances. Tom has also deliberately contravened the Family Court Orders in place, retaining the children longer than permitted and picking them up from school on days when they are not in his care. Bianca believes that these actions are designed to continue to impress upon her that he is “in charge” and that she remains at the mercy of his unpredictable moods and behaviours. Bianca continues to feel helpless and traumatised but has little faith in the systems set up to support survivors of DFV in dealing with these more insidious and subtle manifestations of coercive control – especially technology facilitated abuse and the involvement of the children.

    Bianca also experiences continuing stress in relation to the level of debt she has had to incur to meet legal expenses associated with the protection order, parenting and property matters. She estimates this at more than $100,000. Bianca has borrowed from family and on credit facilities, and the repayments are unmanageable. While Bianca earns an annual salary of around $90,000, debt costs are disproportionate to normal living expenses and the costs associated with bringing up children. Tom pays no child support. Bianca has been unable throughout all these matters to obtain legal aid due to her income level. She has however been able to obtain Victim Assist for some relocation costs and the installation of a home security system.

    Bianca has spent considerable time, personal effort, resources, and compromised health on securing her own safety, protecting the wellbeing of her children, and ensuring the children’s relationship with their father, while coping personally with long-term domestic and family violence. She feels the police have been attentive, supportive and respectful in all their dealings with her. She will always value the support given by a particular female police officer at any hour of the day and night. Bianca also respects the court system and the judicial officers making the decisions, although she found those processes traumatic. She is proud of the time and effort she spent in preparing affidavit material for these proceedings, and believes it helped to achieve the best outcome for her children and herself.

  • Erin and Seth married and lived together for 12 years. Both are from rural farming backgrounds. They have three children who were quite young at separation. Erin has post-graduate qualifications and over some years has acquired recognised expertise. Seth did not finish high school, however has a diploma and farming-related experience. Erin had a troubled relationship with her own family through the marriage, which has continued after separation. She feels she was blamed for a poor choice in Seth and then for the marital breakdown. Erin has been excluded from the family farming business and assets but she places a strong value on family and has endeavoured to foster a relationship, especially so the children would know their grandparents, uncle, and cousins. There is also a history of antagonism by Seth’s family towards Erin with the exception of one family member who has remained supportive.

    Over the course of the marriage, Erin experienced negative, controlling interference from her own and Seth’s families including verbal and physical abuse in the presence of the children. It became problematic to involve family in the care of the children while Erin and Seth attended to work responsibilities; consequently, they stopped doing things together so that one would be available to stay home with the children.

    A significant rupture occurred in the family when Seth was involved in a serious accident making him lose confidence. Seth’s own family farming business—in which he worked, and he and Erin had a part interest—was then sold. Seth struggled to adjust, and financial security from the farm sale took away the urgency to work which was not a good combination. Erin says Seth had a career crisis and he insisted that she and the children travel around with him looking for other opportunities. It was during this time that Seth began denigrating Erin, blaming her for joint financial decisions they previously made, claiming she was inept and incapable of making basic decisions. Erin believed that Seth was jealous of her achievements and humiliating her was his way of dealing with his own deficits. She also believed that throughout the marriage Seth deliberately set about to isolate her from her professional and personal networks so as to limit her capacity to progress in her own work and life. Over time, the situation became intolerable to Erin. From time to time, she would drive away from wherever they were staying to get some brief respite. Erin was aware that Seth had an arsenal of guns (he and his father are hunters), and, as Seth’s behaviour became more irrational, she became increasingly worried about how he might use them.

    Eventually, Seth decided to move interstate to be closer to his family and to have time to find himself. He tried to deliver Erin and the children to Erin’s family, but they refused to house them on the family property. Erin and the children were forced to live with Seth in motels for a number of months before Erin organised a rental house, a quite expensive one that was the only one he would agree to. Within weeks of moving in, Seth was spending more time away than at home, and would take the family car. Erin ended up having to pay for the rental house and purchase another car. The couple separated and a year after reaching a property settlement, Erin felt she and the children were emotionally able to move to a house she bought in her own right. She hoped to give the children a sense of stability as Seth’s week about contact with them was erratic, and each changeover time was an opportunity for him to put her down in front of the children. In the time following separation Seth’s abusive behaviour towards Erin escalated considerably. He also took deliberate steps to recruit Erin’s and his own family as participants in the abuse. In one year after separation Seth again moved interstate and chose to see the children for only limited time on school holidays.

    The couple divorced and agreed on a parenting plan, through solicitors, for the care of the children: they would live with Erin and spend four nights each fortnight with Seth. Seth never followed the arrangement; he would take or leave the children as he wished, and refused to consult Erin or comply with any routine.

    Seth finally got a job and permanent accommodation on the farm where he worked. The couple’s sons were then involved in an accident while at the farm with Seth. The youngest suffered a head injury and Seth didn’t seek suitable medical support, driving him to town instead of calling an ambulance. It wasn’t as serious as feared, but the child experienced health issues and was absent from school as a result. It was clear to Erin that she hadn’t been given a truthful account of the accident. It became apparent to Erin that her family were concerned about Seth’s parenting, calling him irresponsible in front of the children on many occasions, and suggesting that he not have contact with them. Erin found herself having to stand up for the children’s right to have both parents in their lives, resulting on further conflict with her own parents. Seeming to take advantage of this rift, Seth encouraged Erin’s parents to call for a Justice Examination Order to be issued placing Erin under surveillance by police and psychologists for around a week. During his contact time, Seth began alienating the two older children from Erin. He would report to Erin that they were afraid of her and that she was violent and abusive towards them when in her care. What significantly damaged Erin’s relationship with the older two children and prolonged proceedings was Seth’s encouragement of the eldest child to make assault allegations against Erin. She was charged and released on bail, and the charges were subsequently dismissed. This was traumatic and humiliating for Erin.

    On one occasion, Seth assaulted Erin in the children’s presence and then drove off with all three children in the car. The police were called but no action was taken to return the children to Erin. As a consequence, Erin made an application to the Family Court for interim parenting orders. The first family report highlighted alienating and aligning behaviour by Seth in relation to the two older children and concluded that it was clear that Seth wanted Erin out of the children’s lives. The court ordered that the three children live with Erin and have contact with Seth three weekends in every four. Counselling was ordered for all three children; however Seth later withdrew the two older children from counselling accusing the counsellor of not doing what he expected of her.

    Seth subsequently breached the interim parenting orders. During this time, child safety initially removed the children from both parents and then, on application, delivered them to Seth’s family pending a further interim hearing in the Family Court. Further interim parenting orders were made requiring that the children live with Seth and allowing Erin to have weekly two-hour contact visits at a safe house and periodic phone calls. Erin found these visits totally humiliating as she felt she was watched and listened to. She believes this forced the older two children further away from her because, as teenagers, they hated the space.

    Erin was advised by her solicitor not to apply for a protection order as those proceedings may jeopardise or delay the proceedings in the Family court.

    It was another 12 months before the parenting matters came to a final hearing in the Family Court. The second family report confirmed the alienation tactics highlighted in the first report. The judge acknowledged this conclusion and indicated that it wasn’t appropriate for Seth to care for the youngest child for extended periods. There was however no broader recognition of Seth’s violence and abuse. The judge did not give any credit to the allegations regarding Erin’s mental ill health. Seth tried to accuse Erin of being an alcoholic.

    The family report writer was the only witness in the proceedings. The court ordered that the two older children live with Seth and be free to visit Erin as they wish, and that the youngest child return to live with Erin, with fortnightly weekend contact with Seth. Erin believes that the 12 month delay gave Seth the opportunity to cause a great deal of psychological harm to the two older children in continuing his alienating tactics. Whilst an Independent Children’s Lawyer was appointed, Erin observed that the ICL met with the children only once and otherwise performed no obviously useful function; she found that she had to insist that the ICL explain the orders to the two older children as she was very concerned that they believed the court had ordered that they not have contact with her.

    These parenting arrangements have continued now for 10 months. Child safety found that Seth’s allegations against Erin regarding her mental ill health and unfitness to care for the children were unsubstantiated. Still, Erin has no meaningful contact with her two older children. There are the occasional texts and phone calls, but they are commonly abusive towards Erin; periodically, they involve coaxing their younger sibling into disclosing information about or making demands of their mother. Changeover for the youngest child typically occurs at a service station midway between the parents’ houses. Seth uses these opportunities to put down Erin, and when the two older children accompany him, they remain in the car and turn their backs to her.

    Seth’s allegations against Erin were never substantiated and yet post separation and throughout the course of the Family Court proceedings, Seth was able to alienate their two older children from Erin and, consequently, the youngest child. Erin has felt frustrated by the lack of communication or connection between the various courts and agencies that govern her and her children’s circumstances. She remains very concerned about her relationship with her two older children, and their relationship with their younger sibling, and whether there is any prospect that they will get the help they need to positively rebuild these relationships. While the court ordered counselling, it has only occurred once for the oldest two. There is now almost no communication between the oldest two children and Erin. Erin is frustrated with the court order allowing the older children to see her as they choose, believing it denies any hope of her having a good relationship with them.

    Erin is now in financial trouble. While Erin was able to purchase her own home as a result of the early property settlement reached with Seth, since then she has had to borrow money on that security to fund her legal fees in the order of $100,000. Meanwhile, she has started a consultancy business, the returns from which are predictably modest through the building phase. She has received supplementary benefits from Centrelink; however she is currently facing (what she believes are unfounded) claims that she was overpaid. At no stage was Erin entitled to legal aid, whereas Seth received legal aid funding throughout despite having significant financial support from his family. She has recently missed her daughter’s birthday and is struggling to focus on her work. She feels like she needs a miracle. Financially, she lives day to day, trying to make sure she can provide well enough for her youngest child.

  • Susan and Neil were in a relationship for three years and had a child born in the year they separated. Susan is university educated, professionally qualified and has always been in well-remunerated employment apart from during leave following the birth of the child. Neil did not complete high school, however trained in a trade and earns a modest salary. Neil has a history of intermittent drug and alcohol misuse, and when younger attempted suicide on a couple of occasions during periods of depression. After separation, Susan consulted a psychiatrist to deal with the anxiety she experienced as a result of the abusive relationship, and took medication for a time until she felt it was affecting her capacity to function properly; she was also concerned that she may be prejudiced in the Family Court if her Medicare records revealed that she was taking a medication that was indicated for bipolar disorder (but prescribed to Susan for anxiety).

    Susan and Neil casually dated for a brief time some years before living together when Neil was going through a difficult divorce. Neil became resentful and obsessive about Susan dating other men after the brief relationship ended. They eventually got back together and Neil quickly moved in with Susan at a property she owned. While the first six months of their relationship were happy and without incident, in the remaining two and a half years tension and conflict grew between Susan and Neil, there were periods of separation and reconciliation, and Neil’s behaviour became abusive. Susan’s income was considerably higher than Neil’s and, while she did not highlight the point and was happy to make a greater contribution to joint expenses, Neil would accuse Susan of belittling and humiliating him for his limited earning capacity. Increasingly he became frustrated and angry, and would lash out at Susan. Neil is more than a foot taller than Susan; and is athletic and strong. On one occasion, when loading a large and heavy metal crate in the car, he threw it so as to hit Susan who was standing nearby. She was knocked off her feet, her thick-lens glasses cracked and the impact caused a black eye and bruised lip. On another occasion, Neil grabbed Susan around the neck and held her down on the bed.

    When Susan became pregnant, she found intercourse painful and preferred to avoid it. Neil began seeking sexual satisfaction elsewhere. While Neil was away visiting his parents, Susan discovered videos of Neil’s sexual encounters with multiple other women (as well as herself) on his computer. When Susan confronted Neil on the phone, he was enraged that she’d invaded his privacy. Susan then discovered that Neil was having an affair with one of these women. Neil returned to try to salvage the relationship and Susan allowed him back as she didn’t want to raise the child alone. Soon after, Susan discovered on Neil’s phone that he was contacting a former girlfriend on Facebook. Susan left Neil a week before the baby was born and went to stay with her parents; however they told her she must return and try and make the relationship work. Neil made her apologise and taunted her about having no interest in her welfare.

    For three months following the birth, Neil’s behaviour settled down and they both focussed on adjusting to being new parents though Neil had little to do with the day-to-day care of the infant. Neil came up with a business idea that involved selling internet-based camera systems to away-from-home workers. Susan funded the establishment costs as Neil didn’t have the resources himself, however the enterprise did not succeed and ended in financial loss. Neil set up a remotely-controlled camera system in the home, and monitored Susan’s movements in every room, including when she was showering and breastfeeding. She repeatedly asked him to disable the system, and at one stage feared it had been hacked. She recalls one occasion, as she walked out of the bathroom, the camera moved to follow her.

    Six months after the birth of their child, Neil told Susan that he would marry her only if she agreed to go to a swingers club with him; she refused and told him the relationship was over. Susan left and returned to her parent’s house for a couple of days when Neil’s parents became involved. Eventually he told Susan that he ‘could live with it’ if she did not wish to go to a swingers club and the relationship continued for one more month.

    Neil was known for his outbursts of road rage. He would throw heavy objects out of his van while driving, with reckless disregard for the consequences. He was required to attend a police interview about an incident where he allegedly smashed another car with a crow bar. When Susan told his parents, again he was enraged that she breached his privacy. This came shortly after yet another fight about Neil’s infidelity; it was the tipping point for Susan and she decided to leave Neil for good. Their child was seven months old at the time.

    Susan went home with the intention of retrieving some of her personal possessions. Neil should have been at work but she found him in the backyard shed drinking and playing computer games. Susan packed a bag and gathered her personal documents and, with the baby, went to stay with her parents. Susan never returned to Neil. He stayed on in the property for a time and changed all the locks even though the property belonged to Susan’s family and he had not sought permission to do so.

    Susan engaged a lawyer immediately and put in place contact arrangements. The child lived with Susan, and Neil had contact for certain hours three times each week under Susan’s supervision. Neil would at times run away with the child in the pram, which made Susan feel anxious and concerned about the child’s safety. Susan was also keen to get the joint financial matters settled with Neil. She had contributed significantly by way of income, property and parenting, and proposed a cash payment that she felt reflected Neil’s contribution. Neil, acting for himself, approached her one day (when Susan attended the home they had shared to supervise contact) and made an irrational counter offer seeking far in excess of his share. He also demanded that she sell all her properties, leave her job and live with him at a place of his choosing. Susan described Neil’s behaviour as menacing and intimidating, and she was concerned about what he may do next. In the following days, Neil badgered Susan repeatedly by text about his proposal. When Susan rejected his offer, Neil verbally and offensively abused her and threatened blackmail with sex videos. She told him she would go to the police if he continued; he took no notice, and his texts became more threatening. In time, Neil accepted the cash sum originally offered by Susan.

    Susan kept copies of all of Neil’s texts and applied for a protection order against Neil. She was granted a temporary order; however the magistrate refused to name the child on the order. The police delayed in serving the order on Neil and, as a result, Susan was unable to have him charged with an almost immediate breach. This was the first of numerous encounters with police over an extended period where Susan felt her circumstances were not taken seriously nor responded to appropriately. Once served, Neil made a cross application and obtained a reciprocal temporary order against Susan. The final order hearing was conducted over two days; Susan was represented by a solicitor and barrister, Neil was self represented. Susan found the experience of being cross-examined by Neil harrowing and upsetting, and she became quite emotional in the process. She accepts that the magistrate had a duty to ensure Neil was given full opportunity to put his case. While Neil’s application was dismissed and a final order granted in Susan’s favour, it took some months for the magistrate to hand down the judgment; the matter had apparently been overlooked. Susan was not awarded costs even though the magistrate recognised that Neil’s application had no substance and was a case of ‘tit-for-tat’. The delay resulted in interim Family Court parenting orders being made before the final protection order issued. Contact was ordered to continue three times each week as previously, however Susan would be required to come into contact with Neil at handovers contrary to the conditions of the protection order.

    Following the hearing, Neil actively and regularly flouted the protection order. A neighbour witnessed Neil entering the property which he had once lived in with Susan and where she still had many belongings stored. He was subsequently charged with breaching her Temporary Protection Order. Neil would leave notes and photos for her in the child’s bag after contact visits; they were principally designed to rattle Susan, occasionally under the false guise of concern for the child’s welfare. On one occasion, Susan made an audio recording of Neil urging her to read a letter he’d written her while acknowledging that he wasn’t legally able to. When she refused, he told her things would end badly. On another occasion, Neil left his go-pro camera in the child’s bag with footage of him telling the child that Susan had tried to kill Neil. Susan made multiple breach complaints to the police notifying them that she was fearful Neil would kill her; however she was ignored.

    A significant breach of the protection order occurred at handover one evening. Handover took place at a public venue frequented by families and most of what ensued was captured on CCTV footage and Neil’s own go-pro footage. Neil alleged that Susan’s car wasn’t safe to drive and refused to hand over the child, slapping Susan’s hands away as she reached out for the child. Susan called the police for assistance; they suggested she sign a one-off waiver of the protection order to allow Neil to drive the child to her home, and took the matter no further. Susan was unable to get legal advice at that hour of night, so remained in the car park unable to reverse and leave as Neil was standing behind her car. Neil then sat on the bonnet of the car while Susan was locked inside breastfeeding the child; he filmed her, called out insults and accused her of being unsafe with the child. Susan rang a family member and arranged for them to collect the child; she then tried a different police station. The police arrived, however refused to take a statement claiming it was a Family Court matter. Later, when police viewed the CCTV footage, they said Neil had simply deflected not assaulted her, and his actions didn’t constitute a breach of the order. Susan felt aggrieved by the police treatment of her, and with the assistance of a domestic violence support service, lodged a formal complaint, which was never addressed.

    In preparation for a further interim hearing in the Family Court, a family report was prepared. Susan had obtained the CCTV footage of the incidents already described and past medical records evidencing Neil’s mental instability and suicide attempts. Recommendations were made regarding contact in Susan’s favour. On the day prior to the hearing, handover occurred. Neil had read the report. He approached Susan and told her he would get her. Susan went immediately to the police station to make a breach complaint. They took a statement after initially resisting, but said her claims were unsubstantiated as she had no recording of the interaction. Susan’s lawyer, on the other hand, had cautioned her against using recording devices as the Family Court did not regard the practice favourably. Susan tried to submit this fresh evidence at the hearing, however it was not accepted by the Court and the matter was adjourned for some months. Neil continued to refuse any order which excused Susan from being present at handover stating he did not have the financial means to pay for an independent third party.

    Susan (with representation) applied for a variation of the protection order to secure better protection at handover. Neil, for the first time, was represented. Susan’s barrister was concerned that if the matter proceeded to a hearing, Susan may say something in cross-examination that may prejudice the parenting proceedings. Consequently, Susan accepted an undertaking from Neil that he wouldn’t communicate with her during handover or otherwise except in an emergency. Susan agreed to communicate in writing with Neil via a website specifically designed for separated parents. Neil continues to send abusive text messages and emails to Susan. At another handover occasion, he opened the car door while Susan was driving out of the carpark; she had to stop suddenly while he retrieved a piece of paper from the child’s bag. Again, she reported the incident to the police and requested fingerprinting; they wouldn’t take a statement and told her to come back later, they also told her that fingerprinting would be of no value.

    Susan travelled overseas with her son (with Neil’s consent and the Family Court’s knowledge) to visit her sister. Knowing Susan was overseas with the child and unable to attend the mention, Neil made an application for the protection order to be dismissed. He later withdrew the application.

    Further interim parenting orders issued allowing a transition to overnight contact for one night during the week, and daytime contact on the weekend. Susan made an urgent application to the Family Court for further changes after another incident where Neil, with a female friend, approached Susan in a supermarket and told her he was ‘gonna get her’ while she was holding their child. Neil’s contact time changed to three nights every second weekend, with collection and drop-off at day care. At considerable relief to Susan, handover involving contact with Neil was no longer necessary.

    The final Family Court hearing is pending. Susan is assisting her lawyer in gathering records to evidence Neil’s parenting deficits and mental ill health. Susan is seeking sole parental responsibility and would be prepared to accept 4-5 nights contact each fortnight. Susan is concerned that Neil not having representation will adversely affect the outcome; however her lawyer is confident that his motives and behaviours will be exposed in cross-examination.

    Susan estimates having spent more than $200,000 on legal costs; she has had to sell one of her properties to finance the litigation, and will need to mortgage her other property to fund the final Family Court proceedings. Susan believes that it has been very important for her to be legally advised and represented throughout, though she attends mention dates in the Magistrates Court personally to avoid additional costs. Susan and the child continue to live with her parents for protection and to recover financially. Susan has re-partnered but continues to be fearful of Neil and believes he is capable of killing her. She dreads having to reapply for a protection order on the expiration of the current order given the lack of support she has received from the police. Susan believes the police have failed in their duty to respond to Neil’s multiple breaches, despite Susan’s concerted and consistent efforts to provide comprehensive statements and supporting evidence where possible. Neil’s abusive behaviour and Susan’s need for protection continue three years after separation.