Sometimes, co-parents can agree on all aspects of shared parenting but remain completely at odds over just one or two issues and require the courts to intervene to resolve the matter. That’s what happened in a recent family court case, pseudonymised as Davies & Wellesley. In this matter, the single issue that remained in dispute at the final hearing stage was whether or not the mother, who was the primary carer of the child, should have to disclose their residential address to the father.
If you share parenting and are the primary carer, does your co-parent have the right to know your and the children’s home address? In an amicable co-parenting arrangement, this would be unlikely ever be an issue. But sometimes, where there is lingering conflict, a parent doesn’t feel comfortable with their ex knowing their new address. What is the law around this? Can a shared parenting arrangement work if the primary carer doesn’t want to disclose the child’s home address?
The mother and father are co-parents of a four year old girl, conceived after a very brief relationship. The relationship ended acrimoniously with police becoming involved. There was a lengthy process of court orders and supervision of the father’s time with the daughter. But eventually, the parents were able to achieve final agreement on almost all aspects of the parenting arrangements except the single issue of whether the mother had to give the father the child’s address. The mother “resolutely resisted” this and the case proceeded to a court hearing on this single issue.
The mother’s case
The mother in this case did not want the father to know her home address. She claimed she felt “frightened and insecure”, and feared being stalked or subject to coercion or control. She does not know the father well, having only been in a relationship with him for a few months, but she regards him as controlling. While pregnant, she experienced his conduct as harassing and says she was “forced to change address”. She also became alarmed at learning, as part of the legal process, that the father’s previous partner had made similar allegations and successfully obtained an intervention order which led to certain police charges. Now, the mother says she is “deeply fearful and apprehensive of [the father]”.
The father’s case
The father says he has done nothing wrong. He concedes she complained to police but says they did not take the matter further. His position is that he needs to know the child’s address “so if anything untoward happens to [the child], he will be able to respond”.
Is the disclosure automatically required by law?
No. The judge said the father “does not have any specific right to know the child’s address, per se”. The judge did have the discretion to make the order that the father sought, if it was found in the child’s best interests. In determining a child’s best interests, the courts apply the legal framework contained in the Family Law Act 1975. In this matter, the judge chose not to make such an order, on the basis that it would not be in the child’s best interests to force the mother to disclose the address.
Why wasn’t it in the child’s best interests to compel disclosure of the child’s address?
The judge noted the dilemmas in the case. Whichever decision was made, one parent would be aggrieved and conflict was likely to be inflamed. Further, if the mother were allowed to keep the address a secret, would this cause a psychological burden for the child, if she is effectively forbidden from telling her father where she lives?
On the other hand if the father did obtain the address, and the mother genuinely felt harassed in the future, she always had the option of applying for a family violence order. The judge noted though that “underpinning [the mother’s] case is that she does not accept the police will be effective in this regard. Whether that is so or not, I do not know.”
But ultimately, it appears the judge placed significant weight on the mother’s argument that her parenting capacity would be affected if she had to disclose her address. She argued this would make her “insecure and worried all the time” and impact on her parenting, causing a risk of psychological harm to the child. The court noted that because the mother is the child’s primary carer, “it is an important factor in terms of the nature of her relationship with the child”.
The judge therefore declined to make the order that the father sought which would compel the mother’s disclosure.
What was the remedy instead?
The judge noted that there are processes available to help parents learn to share parental responsibility and co-parent peacefully–and to help them resolve disputes such as this. As such, he directed that the mother and father attend co-parenting counselling. He pointed out that for this to succeed requires commitment, effort and insight on the parents’ part.
The judge also noted that the mother and father had agreed to attend a Family Dispute Resolution conference once the child turns seven years of age. Given that, the judge appeared to defer the issue to that future time and said “that is the appropriate stage at which to discuss the issue of the child’s and the mother’s address” – should it still be an issue then.
You can read this judgment in full here.
For assistance with a parenting or other family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.