21 Apr 2024

Family Court grants custody of kids to recovering alcoholic mum rather than ‘gaslighting’ dad

8:20 pm on 21 April 2024

By Catherine Hutton, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

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Photo: RNZ / Anneke Smith

A recovering alcoholic has won custody of her two children after the Family Court found the father subjected his ex-wife to an "onslaught of emotional and psychological abuse".

After separating in 2021, the couple initially had a shared parenting arrangement.

But, according to a decision released this week, matters came to a head in March 2022 when the father claimed the mother had relapsed and started drinking again.

Concerned for his children's welfare, he and his brother drove to his ex-wife's house and tried to take both children, but only managed to collect his young daughter.

The mother denied drinking, explaining she had a bad migraine.

The wife's mother, neighbour and the police, who attended that night, said there was nothing in the mother's demeanour to suggest she was drunk.

While the mother admitted she was an alcoholic, she supplied evidence to the court of addressing her alcoholism through regular attendance at Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and counselling.

She submitted her ex-husband's behaviour was harmful to the children. This included keeping the children for several weeks, while allowing only minimal contact.

She said he had also breached interim parenting orders and embarked on a campaign of psychological abuse against her including referring to her in a derogatory way in multiple emails copied to the children's doctors and the children's school principal.

The court was also critical of the father's brother, who it said had displayed "concerning patterns of conduct" towards his former sister-in-law including sending threatening emails, trying to obtain her private medical records from her doctor and adding inflammatory comments to his brother's affidavit.

It found the father and his brother had run a concerted gaslighting exercise against the mother.

Concerns were also raised by the mother about the father's ability to deal with his son, who has special needs.

The mother contended her ex-husband was prone to anger, had physically disciplined his son and had difficulty managing his son's condition.

She said he did not support his son's overall wellbeing, including a reluctance to have his son assessed by a paediatrician.

The son told his lawyer there were some differences between his mum and dad. When he accidentally did something wrong his father would grab him and shout at him. His mother would just sigh and say, "Oh [Thomas]" (not his real name).

After the 2022 incident, there were numerous applications and appeals to the Family Court, prompting one judge to describe the file as a "procedural morass".

Describing the material as "voluminous", the decision said the material showed a concerning power and control dynamic on the father's part.

The court declined to continue co-parenting, saying there was no sign of the campaign against the mother abating. It said assigning custody to the mother provided the best opportunity for the children to get on with their lives without "continuing to be in the middle of the onslaught of emotional and psychological abuse that is evident throughout these proceedings".

Where to get help

Women's Refuge:(0800 733 843

It's Not OK 0800 456 450

Shine: 0508 744 633

Victim Support: 0800 842 846

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 - push 0 at the menu

The National Network of Family Violence Services NZ has information on specialist family violence agencies.

This story originally appeared in the NZ Herald.

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