A five-year-long custody dispute in the Family Court has not only been making headlines, but also testing how well the legal system is able to handle family violence.
The matter involves a couple that have been given the pseudonyms Ms Tindall and Mr Saldo; they have been fighting over their young daughter since their relationship ended in 2008.
The main issue is their dispute over Mr Saldo’s history of family violence. In 2007, at their home in Cambridge Park, Mr Saldo tied the child to a chair and swung a samurai sword at her. Mr Saldo also bashed Ms Tindall over the course of their relationship.
Mr Saldo was to go on trial for the behaviour in 2010; however, before the criminal trial could happen, the couple came before a court to determine parenting arrangments. Ms Tindall told the court that she was concerned that Mr Saldo would act on threats to kill her and her child. Mr Saldo responded, telling the court that Ms Tindall had a history of making up allegations, and that her fearful behaviour was an act.
Judge Stewart Austin ordered that Mr Saldo continue to see the child for two-hour weekly visits at a supervised contact centre. His Honour’s reasoning was that the incident had occurred many years earlier, and that the pending criminal proceedings did not constitute ”a change in the family dynamic”.
”The father’s decision to publicly admit his past violent behaviour changed nothing about the history of the parties’ relationship,” Justice Austin said. ”His pleas of guilty were only a vindication of the mother’s allegations of past domestic violence.”
Fearing for her daughter’s safety, Ms Tindall stopped dropping her child off at the weekly visits. She was then reprimanded by the judge and convicted of 20 breaches of parenting orders.
Ms Tindall is now appealing against her convictions in the Family Court of Australia. Dr R, a Family Court psychologist involved from the beginning of the dispute, has also told the court that he had originally agreed with Mr Saldo and described her as “calculated and brazen”.;
However, when Mr Saldo entered a guilty plea to his criminal trial and was convicted to five years in prison, Dr R admitted he had understated the degree of violence and had never been more wrong in his 20 years of preparing expert reports.
If Ms Tindall’s appeal is successful, it has the potential to change how family violence and domestic abuse is handed by the legal system.