Best of the Week
Sisters stage online protest against Family Court
A medical professional investigated for inappropriate contact with young female patients - including at least one teenager - both in New Zealand and Australia has been granted unsupervised access to his two daughters by the Family Court - despite the pair's protests.
The man, identified as Mr A for the purpose of this story, lives in Australia and has two daughters - aged 10 and 12 - living with their mother and stepfather in New Zealand. The pair, distraught at being forced to undertake unsupervised visits with their father, are holding an online protest against the Family Court.
Videos from the girls highlight what they believe is "aged-based" discrimination by the court.
“If I was 16, no one would be allowed to force me to spend time with them,” the elder of the two girls says.
Her paternal grandmother would not be able to force her son to visit her through a Family Court order, "nor would she be allowed to send police and have him dragged from his home", she says.
“I believe this demonstrates the discrimination is age-based,” she says.
Her younger sister also takes aim at the court-assigned lawyer-for-child and wants to lay a complaint.
“We are unable to sack her even though she has clearly been incompetent,” she says.
The pair’s protest follows a long-running Newsroom investigation into the Family Court, specifically the enforcement of parenting orders.
“My view is that would have been getting very close to the time where it would become inappropriate for [Mr A] to bathe with the girls,”
- Judge's decision
Mr A and his former partner - Mrs A - previously had an informal childcare arrangement in place for their children. However, since Mr A’s application for formal access to his daughters was made in an interim decision in the Family Court, he has been granted four days of unsupervised access to his children - despite evidence outlining his previous behaviour with young women and reports to the court that his daughters do not want to spend time with him.
Both girls, who have spent two days holed up at their mother and stepfather’s home in protest at the court order, found out the day before the current school holidays began they would be required to spend four days with their father.
Those four days, which did not include overnight access, were supposed to begin on Tuesday.
Detailed in the Family Court judge’s interim decision is a turbulent family history dating back five years.
At the end of 2012, Mr and Mrs A separated - coinciding with a complaint being laid against Mr A about his conduct with a patient in New South Wales. Conflicting evidence has been presented regarding the complaint, with Mrs A stating in her affidavit that her former partner began a relationship with a high school student he admitted to hospital for mental health reasons. “After he discharged her, he continued this relationship,” she said.
Mr A denied this, and cited a decision by the relevant healthcare oversight authority to take “no further action” in regards to the complaint.
However, three years later in New Zealand, another patient complaint was laid against Mr A. It alleged he “sexually groomed” a 16-year-old. An online sexual relationship followed. This triggered an investigation by the top healthcare authority responsible for monitoring medical professionals in Mr A’s field.
It found Mr A’s behaviour to be “inappropriate” and recommended he be counselled “by way of an education letter … to gain a greater understanding of his personal professional boundaries”.
When approached for comment regarding Mr A’s case, the authority’s media spokesman confirmed he could no longer work in New Zealand.
While both the New Zealand and Australian complaints were provided to the Family Court, the judge did not find either of the cases to show Mr A was a risk sexually to his daughters.
“Whilst I agree that [Mr A] was very unwise entering into an online relationship with the young woman, there is nothing in the evidence which would translate to being evidence to support a sexual risk to his daughters,” the judge said.
Three other notable incidents alleging “inappropriate boundaries” between Mr A and his daughters were covered in the Family Court judgment.
All three - which included Mr A bathing with his daughters when they were 8 and 10 years old - did not amount to “ongoing risk”.
“My view is that would have been getting very close to the time where it would become inappropriate for [Mr A] to bathe with the girls,” the judge said. As part of the parenting order, Mr A has agreed to no longer bathe with his children, or change in front of them.
As of yesterday evening, the girls were still at their home with their stepfather and mother. While Mr A had turned up in the morning, both girls had refused to see him and stayed indoors, despite knowing that - under the Care of Children Act - police could be called to uplift them and hand them over to their father.
“This is the girls’ fight,” the pair’s stepfather said.
“The adults have had their say, now it’s the kids' go.”