Father forced his children to ‘overexercise’, court hears
Woman claimed husband made son ride exercise bike for so long he would cry from pains
Father said he was only interested in having a role in his children’s life. “They are what I get up for in the morning”
A father forced his children to “overexercise” and threatened to treat them like children in the film The Magdalene Sisters if they did not behave, a family court in a rural town was told on Wednesday.
The father denied all of the allegations, and concerns were raised about parental alienation, when one parent negatively influences a child against the second parent.
Giving evidence in a divorce case, the children’s mother claimed that when she lived with her estranged husband the children were fed Nutella and “goody”, a mixture of bread and milk. She said on one occasion her husband phoned a supermarket to find out the price of bread and milk, then sent her to buy them after giving her the exact sum required.
She said her husband made her children run around the house, improving their speeds every time, and made their son ride an exercise bike for so long that he would cry from the pains in his legs.
She also alleged, after the couple had separated more than six years ago, her daughter made an allegation of sexual abuse. The mother said access visits were then stopped with both children. The court heard an investigation carried out by a sexual-abuse therapy unit found no evidence of abuse.
Access had been due to resume with the father, but this had not occurred, and the mother faced threats of imprisonment twice for breaching a District Court access order. Access resumed on a supervised basis, three years after the allegation, but faltered earlier this year. The mother said the children were refusing to attend and they were frightened of their father. He had told them he was saving to buy a gun to kill their mother, she said.
Giving evidence, the father, who agreed he had been divorced more than once before, denied he overexercised the children. Asked if he forced his son to use the exercise bike he said, “That’s news to me.” He said he had been using it himself and the boy had wanted a go too. He also said he never timed his children running and they were just having fun, but he did “encourage and motivate them”. He denied sexual abuse or saying he was buying a gun. Access happened only when his estranged wife decided it would happen, and he did not know what more he could do.
“I am only interested in having a role in my children’s life,” he said. “They are what I get up for in the morning.”
Also giving evidence, a clinical psychologist said he had been at access with the children and their father and they showed “extraordinary affection” with each other. He said it was at complete variance with them not wanting to go to access.
Asked about parental alienation by the judge, the psychologist said some children get so caught up in the struggle between parents that they act as though the alleged behaviour really happened.
He said anything the father would say or do would be “catastrophised” by the mother.
“I honestly don’t believe the children have the psychological permission to love their father,” he said.
Asked by the judge if the mother should continue to have primary care of the children, the psychologist said it would be “emotionally catastrophic” for them to be removed from her. He agreed with counsel for the mother that she believed her position was correct and she was afraid for her children, but said that didn’t mean it was correct.
He suggested the change in the children’s attitudes to access may be because he had recommended in his report to the court that unsupervised access should be introduced.
“I don’t want to suggest the children are coached, but there is a distinct danger they are caught up in this and can’t deviate from it because they would be leaving their mother unsupported.”
The judge said she would reserve her judgment but told counsel for the mother her decision would involve, “at the very minimum, a resumption of supervised access”. She said something had to change.