Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Suicidal Ideation of a Parent and Proper Medical Evidence of Treatment

Where there is evidence of suicidal ideation on the part of a parent with children who are subject to the Family Law Act 1975, the other parent may raise the issue of the need to protect the children from abuse or neglect. In Dooley & Skelton [2015] FCCA 2195 the father alleged that the suicidal ideation of the mother was part of the evidence of her mental health problems and there was an unacceptable risk to the children from being returned to the care of the mother and living with her.

It seems the mother was able to produce relevant helpful evidence to assist her case. The evidence showed she had “a background history of anxiety and depression” and relevantly she “experienced an episode of reactive depression and needed to be hospitalised for about a week”. “At that time, the mother was suffering low moods in relation to her then life circumstances. She was expressing suicidal thoughts but had no plans. After about one week, the mother was discharged from hospital for her own followup with her own treating doctors.” (See Judge Newbrun at [45])

The mother produced evidence that since her discharge from hospital she “has acted responsibly”. She sought psychological treatment, as well as treatment from her general medical practitioner. “The reports of her doctors and psychologists state the mother is committed to ongoing therapy.” That medical evidence contended “that the mother is now able to take care of her children’s needs and provide them with a safe and stable environment”. The Court accepted that medical evidence. (See [46])

The evidence of the mother was that whilst in hospital “she was seen by a psychiatrist, social worker, psychologist”. (See [47]) There was further evidence that prior to being admitted to hospital “the mother was experiencing some suicidal ideation , which had increased over the previous two weeks”. There was also evidence that prior to being discharged from hospital the mother was provided with a GP Mental Health Treatment plan. (See [48])

The mother produced evidence of her:
  • compliance with treatment from her medical practitioners; and
  • continuing treatment.
The evidence of the mother and her treating health professionals satisfied the Court that:
  • she had made a substantial recovery from her relevant mental health issues; and
  • she was presently able to take care of the needs of her children and provide them in a safe and stable environment (See [49])

The Court found that on the evidence before it “there is no unacceptable risk to the children from being returned to the mother’s care and living with her” (See [45]) and ordered that the children be returned to live with the mother.

Read in conjunction with Hunter & Morrison (Contravention) [2014] FamCA 198 (28 March 2014) Dooley & Skelton shows how to respond to the suicidal ideation of a parent and the material to place before the Court.

In Hunter & Morrison (Contravention) Tree J said at paragraph [54] “In my view, whilst the report of Mr A showed that the mother’s solicitors were taking steps to comply with the requests of the father made via his solicitors, the provision of the report, without more, did not go far enough. It ought to have addressed specifically the question of  suicidal ideation, and to have made it clear that Mr A had been appraised of the mother’s recent alleged disclosures to the children. Absent that sort of specificity, it was nothing more than a general statement which inevitably would be insufficient to placate the beliefs of the father.”

Further in Savage & Savage [2016] FamCA 20 Hannam J spoke to the issue of providing the Court with appropriate evidence from a suitably qualified expert concerning the mental health of the relevant parent, as it applies to their parenting capacity.

The dispute was whether there was an unacceptable risk of harm to the children if they were to spend unsupervised time with the father as he proposed, as a result of his mental condition and associated risk of suicidality. (See [28] and [30])

At [60] Hannam J said “Due to the mental health difficulties and suicidality in particular of the father, does he lack capacity to care for the children under the orders he proposes?”

At [77] Hannan J concluded

  • "as I do not have appropriate evidence from a suitably qualified expert concerning the mental health of the father as it applies to his parenting capacity, I am of the view that there is some risk of harm to the children; and"
  • "at this stage it is appropriate to mitigate that risk by requiring that the time with them of the father be supervised."