Family Court Brethren

By John Hirst

Monday 24 August 2009

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The Family court has recently ruled that a separated father who has left the Brethren sect can never see his children again. The mother supported by the church refuses to let the children mix with anyone not of their sect, including the father. For some time the Court attempted to make the mother allow the father to see the children. When the mother defied its rulings, it imposed a suspended prison sentence on her; that is she would go to jail if she persisted to deny access. On appeal this was overturned because of the mother's illness.

The father, having spent thousands on these cases, was still without access to his children. He then proposed to the court that children should live with him and have access to the mother. The Court has just rejected that proposal; it has reversed its earlier decisions and ruled that the father should have no contact of any sort with his children. The state through this Court is now endorsing the exclusive principles of the exclusive Brethren-against a father who has done nothing wrong except leave the sect.

The case highlights a general truth about this Court: if you are persistent and flagrant in disobeying its orders it will give in. This is partly because its judges haven't the gumption to enforce their orders. It is also because the law states that best interests of the child must be a paramount. If the mother has poisoned the children's minds against the father; if the children have to be ripped away from the mother to see the father, then it may well be argued that in the short term at least the children would be damaged by enforcing the law.

The long term may well be different. The court is leaving children with mothers who are feeding their minds with terrible falsehoods against their father. What damage will do to a child when they come of age to discover that their father had not sexually abused them as their mother had claimed?

As the law stands at present, the paramount principle of the best interests of the child can be used to negate another principle that the law endorses: that children should have access to both their parents. The law needs to be changed so that both parents should have the right to see their children unless it can be demonstrated that they would do harm to the child. The principle of best interests of the children would then come into play to determine where children should live and how much access each parent would have.

One might think that a right of a parent to see a child is a fundamental human right. But the Family Law Act, as it has been interpreted by the Court, does not regard parents as having any right to see their children. As soon as separation occurs that right disappears. The Court will decide what, if any contact, a parent will have with a child.

Normally of course the Court will want both parents to be involved with the children and that is what the law encourages, but the absence of a right to see a child allows the Court to do monstrous things with the assurance that it is acting in the best interests of the child — as it has just done to the father who has left the Brethren sect.

If the law proclaimed very definitely that a parent who was not going to damage a child was going see him or her, the parent who had custody of the child would know that whatever tricks they played and whatever lies they peddled, the end result would never be that they would obtain complete possession of the child. If the principle were in place the number of false accusations would decline.

If a parent having custody of a child persisted in denying access to the other parent, then another principle endorsed by the law would come into play. The child should live with the parent who was most willing to give access to the other. In the Brethren case the children should have been given to the father. If the mother then refused to see them because they were polluted by contact with the father, then the damage she did to them would be on her head. The state would have done its best for the children without injustice to the parents who must have the right to see their children.

As it is the state has consigned the children to a sect which declared that not only the father but everyone else in the community is to be avoided. And there is no damage to the children in that? The Court previously received professional advice that the mother, her family and the Brethren were guilty of "cruel, unacceptable and abusive behaviour towards these children".

Article written by John Hirst, a historian. His next book is The Shortest History of Europe.

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