Family courts always focus on child welfare but, in doing so, they often have to delve deep into the inner workings of parental relationships. A judge did just that in finding that a vulnerable and naïve mother was exploited by her patronising and dismissive partner.
The couple’s volatile relationship lasted for about two years, yielding a daughter who was only a few months old when they separated. After a dispute developed between them concerning child contact arrangements, the judge was required to consider where the girl’s best interests lay. After each parent made serious allegations of domestic abuse against the other, he conducted a fact-finding exercise.
Following a five-day hearing, the judge found that, when drunk or under the influence of drugs, the mother was physically abusive towards the father. She had on at least one occasion used a knife to threaten him with violence. He emphasised, however, that she was intoxicated and in a heightened state of arousal during the incidents.
The father was her first serious partner and she had become obsessed with keeping the relationship going. She was possessive of him and defaulted to jealousy and anxiety when he was not physically with her. Her behaviour was, however, entirely recognisable as that of someone caught up in the whorl of abuse.
Her sense of self-worth and self-esteem had been eroded to the point where she lost any objective sense of what is acceptable and unacceptable in a relationship. She had become immunised to the emotional volatility of a relationship that she had come to believe was normal. She simply sought to cling on to what she knew.
The father was several years older than her and considerably more worldly. There was a power imbalance in their relationship and, as the dominant partner, he tapped into her vulnerability. Manipulating her, he exploited her relative youth and naivety and was patronising and dismissive of her. Because of his behaviour towards her, she had suffered severe anxiety, depression and trauma. The impact of abuse on the mother was plain from her obvious and extreme distress in court.
In the light of his findings, the judge gave directions for another hearing at which he would further consider the impact of the abuse on the mother and child. Following that evaluation, he would determine what orders needed to be made to ensure their future protection and welfare.