Domestic violence illustration — young girl listens to parents fighting. Picture: iStock
Domestic violence illustration — young girl listens to parents fighting. Picture: iStock

Judge grants girl’s wish to ‘divorce’ parents

A TEENAGE girl has "divorced'' her dysfunctional parents after an Australian judge granted her wish to live with her grandmother.

The 15-year-old girl, known in court documents as X, had been caught in a "very intense'' custody battle between her cannabis-cultivating father, her abusive mother and her grandmother.

But in a 176-page ruling, Federal Circuit Court Judge Tom Altobelli ruled that Girl X could live with any of them "in accordance with her wishes''.

"X has expressed a wish to continue to live with the paternal grandmother,'' he states in his judgment, published this month.

"This is a very difficult case … in some respects this decision is about whether X should be permitted to make a decision, even if it might be a bad decision for her.''

Judge Altobelli said the parents would have a "hard time'' accepting the ruling, as the family was in "emotional pain''.

"The very long history of conflict and dysfunction probably made this inevitable,'' he said.

Judge Altobelli said the parents had a "turbulent" relationship, with the mother suffering mental illness and the father physically unwell.

"Both parents have a history of drug and alcohol issues,'' his judgment states.

"It seems as if the parents were involved in drug cultivation, and the father ultimately spent time in jail relating to this.

"The children made disclosures of alleged sexual abuse perpetrated by their mother.

"The police were not infrequent visitors to the home.

"The parental grandparents became increasingly involved in the children's lives, because of the dysfunction of the parental household.''

The judge said X's younger siblings - aged 10 and seven - were living with their mother in Sydney.

But X wanted to live with her grandmother in a regional town, where she had enrolled in a new high school.

The judge ruled that the mother, father and grandmother must "do all acts and things necessary'' to facilitate the teenager's contact with her siblings, "in accordance with X's wishes''.

The judgment includes a restraining order to stop the mother sharing a bed with X, should the girl decide to visit.

It also bans the parents or grandmother from getting drunk or taking illegal drugs while they are with X - or for 12 hours before a visit.

The adults are also banned from shouting at X, recording her "aberrant behaviour'', physically disciplining or threatening to hurt her.

They must not expose the girl to "excessive conflict or violent behaviour'', including verbal abuse, while she is in their care.

The ruling includes an injunction to restrain the adults from "making any negative, critical, belittling or derogatory comments'' about other family members - in hearing range, in writing or on social media.

The girl was represented by an independent Children's Lawyer, with assistance from Legal Aid NSW.

The ruling gives her the power to choose who she lives with until she is 18, without going back to court.

The case is significant in light of an Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry that recommends judges take children's views into account in custody disputes.

The ALRC says judges should grant custody based on the "safety and best interests'' of children, instead of assuming shared care.

"Arrangements for children should not expose children or their carers to abuse or family violence,'' it said.

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