A Family Court judge has ruled that a young child should begin monthly visits to their father inside a maximum-security prison where he is serving a life sentence for murder.
Statutory rules governing Family Court reporting mean the Herald cannot identify any of the parties involved.
However, a judge’s decision, obtained by the Herald, outlines the case in full, and explains how the young child will be going behind bars to see their biological father.
The court heard that the child’s father is currently serving a life sentence with a high minimum non-parole period after pleading guilty to murder.
Details of the murder cannot be reported but it involved a high level of violence.
The child’s mother did not know of the man’s arrest and remand in custody for about six weeks.
Later, when she found out about his predicament, and his gang connections, she was concerned for both her and her child’s safety and stopped contact.
The child’s mother later negotiated interim contact arrangements with the father’s close family members while the child lived under their fulltime day-to-day care.
Supervised monthly visits with her grandmother at a contact centre were arranged but funding ran out shortly before the court hearing.
The grandmother applied for a parenting order seeking contact with the child every second weekend, which was opposed by the mother.
The father also sought contact, by telephone and audio visual link (AVL) from prison, and then in-person visits when Covid-19 restrictions allowed.
“He recognised it was not easy but said he did not want [his child] to forget him, and he wanted them to know that their father loves and cares about [the child],” the Family Court ruling says.
The mother said she was worried about her child going into prison but said she would facilitate visits only if they wanted to see their father.
After a two-day hearing late last year, the parties and their lawyers reached an agreement about most aspects of the child’s future contact with their paternal family.
The contact with their paternal family will gradually progress over three stages, starting with three-hour Sunday visits with their grandmother and the father able to write letters to his child who will be “encouraged to respond”.
Stage two will kick in after three months when monthly contact visits will increase to four hours and the father can make phone or video calls to his child.
Stage three sees six-hour Sunday grandmother visits – and also trips to see their dad in prison.
The court heard the child’s mother was “understandably worried” about the jail visits and reservations about her relationship with the man given he is serving a life sentence for murder.
“Several times she referenced the violence from him that she experienced in their relationship and her feeling she hadn’t been listened to in the proceedings leading up to the temporary protection order being discharged and the shared parenting order being made by consent,” says the Family Court decision released last month.
She said her child’s phone calls with their father were “upsetting” for the child who began having nightmares about him in prison.
A psychologist report by a clinical and forensic psychiatrist who is currently involved in 10 cases where a parent is in prison acknowledged children’s natural fear of prison “because they are generally told that prison is a bad place and bad people go to prison”.
The judge said the child’s continued relationship with their father, and their family group, will be “preserved and strengthened” if they can visit him in prison.
“My decision is that it is in [their] welfare and best interests for them to regularly visit [their] father in prison together with [their] stepmother [suppressed] and siblings [also suppressed],” the judge ruled.
The judge said that while it is important for children to know their views are important and will be considered, “it is the adults who must decide their care arrangements,” they said.
“It is unfair to place the heavy weight of responsibility on children, requiring them to make what are essentially parental decisions that the adults should be making.”