Separation Anxiety & Child Custody

Do you have a child who is suffering from separation anxiety? Is your family experiencing a separation?

Children suffering separation anxiety and children at the centre of child custody disputes are both topics that have individually received a great deal of attention.

If you are separating and have a child or children who have in the past or continue to experience separation anxiety you may want to know what the Family Court might do.

Separation and divorce are widely understood to be hugely stressful life experiences and as much as we, as adults, try to shield our children in the process it is almost inevitable that separation and divorce fundamentally affects children’s lives.

When children of separating parents are resilient and conflict between their parents is low there is a strong likelihood that they will continue to thrive and meet all the developmental milestones at a similar rate to their peers. This conclusion is consistently reflected in research. However, when children are more vulnerable, the Court is sometimes asked to intervene and make decisions about how to protect a child’s best interests.

This is just what the Federal Circuit Court was asked to consider in the case of Harricks & Harricks [2014] FCCA 2724.

In that case a nine year old boy had in early 2012 been identified by his then treating psychologist as meeting the diagnostic criteria for separation anxiety disorder. This young boy was the focus of the Court’ attention in the Federal Circuit Court case of Harricks & Harricks [2014] FCCA 2724.

By way of background the young boy’s parents met whilst the mother was living and working abroad. The mother fell pregnant when she was dating the father and returned to Australia to live. After a short time the father followed her to Australia where they married. The parties separated in November 2005 when the little boy was only two months of age. The extent of time that the father had spent with the boy and his involvement in his life in the early years was the subject of dispute at the trial. However for periods of time the little boy had spent time most weekends, including overnight time, with his father as well as living with his father for a period in about mid-2010 when the mother was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident as a result of which she experienced severe spinal injuries and was required to undergo a period of hospitalisation. The mother reported at hearing that since birth the little boy had experienced difficulties with sleep and had, since starting school, exhibited behaviours related to a generalised anxiety disorder including crippling panic attacks, losing bladder control, poor concentration at school and overwhelming shyness. In 2011 the mother sought help and was referred to a clinical psychologist who from November 2011 to early February 2012 consulted with the little boy on six separate occasions. Some progress was identified however by late 2012 the little boy’s anxiety was reported by the mother to have significantly heightened to the point where the mother was having difficulty ensuring that the little boy either attend school or spend time with his father.

In early 2013 the father commenced family law proceedings and notwithstanding several family law Consent Orders being subsequently made, by early 2012 his relationship with his young son had broken down completely. No one suggested that the father was the cause of the young boy’s anxiety but rather that the child’s separation anxiety was severely impacting on his ability to have a relationship with his father among other things.

The child’s treating psychologist was asked to provide both information, reports and answers to questions in relation to the child and, shortly following a telephone conversation with the Court’s Family Report writer declined to further assist the child citing an unfamiliarity with court process as one of her significant reasons. The Court made no criticisms of the treating psychologist and in fact went to significant lengths to recognise the professional manner in which she had both assisted the child and attempted to assist more broadly the family and their respective family law representatives.

The pressing issue before the Court when it was first listed for trial was the need to obtain an alternate medical service to treat the child’s diagnosed medical condition, particularly his separation anxiety. It was suggested to the Court that an alternate service was difficult to source given the broader medical community’s reluctance to become drawn into family court litigation.

After considerable effort, over a period of two days, the Court made an interim order with the consent of all parties restraining each party and the Independent Children’s Lawyer from subpoenaing any treating medical practitioner or member of staff of any public health agency providing treatment to the child to either attend Court and give evidence or to request any such service provider to provide a report. The ability of the parties to issue subpoena for the production of any medical records provided by such further service provider however remained intact.

This case touches upon and highlights the continuing tension that exists between the law and the medical profession in respect of the disclosure of information and the like that doctors and treating clinicians regard as confidential in nature. This is a tension that continues to exist and is difficult to navigate particularly in family law matters. The interim orders made by consent in this case outlined a practical way forward to ensure that the boy’s best interests were properly served.

Having assisted family law clients on Sydney’s North Shore for more than twenty years we have found that a number of families with children experiencing anxiety reported to us of having been helped by the “Cool Kids” program run by Macquarie University. Whilst this is not the only service provider it is a highly regarded provider and assists people from the Sydney Metropolitan area and is conveniently located for those people living on Sydney’s North Shore, in the Inner West and Ryde. It is also easily accessible by public transport (train) from Chatswood given the new train station located at Macquarie University.

If your child is receiving treatment for anxiety or another sensitive issue and your family is also experiencing a separation you can be confident that Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers are well placed to assist you navigate the best way forward for your child.

If you are separating or involved in family law litigation involving your children and want to talk about how best to approach this particular situation then call me, Lisa Wagner of Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers on 9437 0010 or email me on We have Accredited Family Law Specialists and registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners here to help at this really difficult time.

These posts are only intended as an overview or comment on current issues that may interest you and are not legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.

Accredited Family and Divorce Law Specialist Turramurra

Are you seeking an expert divorce lawyer near Turramurra?

Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers provide specialist family law advice you can rely on.

Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers have been guiding family law clients and providing sound family law advice and support to people from the Upper North Shore and the Turramurra area for over twenty years.

Our solicitors have been involved in every type of family law matter including:

  • Simple joint applications for Divorce for parties who have been separated for a long period of time.
  • Applications for Divorce for parties who have been living separately but under the one roof.
  • Applications for Divorce by a single party requiring substituted service on a spouse who is difficult to locate and/or serve.
  • Complicated financial/property settlements involving complex corporate structures and self-managed superannuation funds.
  • Financial/Property settlements requiring input from independent professionals (such as accountants and financial planners) to ensure they are as tax effective as possible for the parties.
  • Negotiating and documenting financial/property settlements which allow our clients to disentangle themselves from their family’s long standing financial arrangements including through the obtaining of independent financial/accounting advice and the engagement of expert valuers to value assets and liabilities of the relationship such as real estate, furniture, antiques, artwork, corporate entities, agricultural interests, self-managed superannuation funds, family trusts etc.
  • Parenting matters requiring the formalisation of informal parenting plans agreed between the parties.
  • Contested parenting matters (sometimes involving an Independent Children’s Lawyer)
  • Parenting matters involving allegations of abuse and/or family violence.
  • De facto matters requiring division of property and/or arrangements for the care of children.

We can take away some of the worry about how to approach your new situation because our team of family lawyers are highly experienced in the areas of separation and divorce. Family law is all that we do, but we do it very well because our years of experience have seen us “go through” a variety of relationship breakdowns with our clients. Whilst we take all of our client’s matters personally, we rarely come across a set of circumstances that we haven’t seen (in some varying degree) before. So whilst your experience of your separation will be very new to you, we have the appropriate level of “foresight” and are accordingly well placed to help you through the process because the experience is not new to us. We can also help put some distance between you and your former spouse in an effort to keep your relationship breakdown as amicable as possible.

Whatever your personal circumstances may be, we believe it is of utmost importance that people experiencing a separation or divorce seek out professional help from a family law expert early so that they can get proper guidance on how to best move forward with their lives, develop a proper legal strategy and get the answers they need to “put their best foot forward” on their journey post-separation. We know that our help can put you in the best position to negotiate and secure the optimal outcome that works for you and your family in all of your personal circumstances.

Our family lawyers are recognised by the Law Society of New South Wales through the Law Society NSW Accredited Specialist Scheme. We can confidently say that we believe we are leaders in the family law arena on Sydney’s North Shore and are the best placed North Shore family law firm to assist you to make the best decisions about your future based on the reality of your personal circumstances. We have helped countless clients including from Warrawee, Pennant Hills, Thornleigh and Beecroft who can all attest to our commitment to their family law matter.

At Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers we are committed to providing all of our clients with sensitive and personal service and support because we understand how difficult it is for our clients to traverse the highs and lows of the separation and divorce process. We promise you that we will approach your matter with this and your personal circumstances at the front of our minds. We will take the time to listen to you so that we can better understand your wants, needs and concerns so that any advice we provide to you is tailored to your family’s specific needs and any approach we take to the management of your family law matter is suitable in your circumstances. In that regard we have family lawyers who are skilled in collaborative practice through which we attempt to:

  • Give you ample input in and control over your matter.
  • Allow independent professionals (such as accountants, financial planners, finance brokers and counsellors) to have input into the family law process because we understand that a family relationship breakdown has the ability to wreak havoc on many aspects of your life.
  • Keep your costs down by attempting to settle matters via alternate dispute resolution methods such as negotiation (including attendance at roundtable settlement conferences), mediations and arbitrations, and wherever possible avoiding the court process.
    Our Services:
  • A full range of Family Dispute Resolution and mediation services including collaborative practice. We can also provide parties participating in Family Dispute Resolution with s.60I certificates when required.
  • Preparation of clients for undertaking negotiations with their former partner or spouse and/or commencing the family law court process;
  • All aspects of negotiating Property/Financial Settlements, including negotiating provisions for spouse maintenance, child support, adult child maintenance and superannuation splitting
  • Drafting and reviewing settlement documents including Consent Orders, Binding Financial Agreements, Deeds of Release in respect of commercial entities and Release Agreements in respect of future Succession Act claims;
  • Drafting and reviewing all manner of court documents including Applications, Responses, Financial Statements, Affidavits, Subpoena, interim applications etc.
  • Coordinating your family law matter with regard to estate and succession planning issues. Our family law experts can also provide you with practical advice about how best to protect your family’s assets against claims by third parties (including new spouses and second families) and protecting yourself against a future Succession Act claim.

If you are separated or are thinking about separating and would like to obtain some expert family law advice about your rights or your responsibilities and where you stand, our team of highly regarded Accredited Family Law Specialists and registered Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners can help you. So call us on 9437 0010 or email

These posts are only intended as an overview or comment on current issues that may interest you and are not legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.