Father Ordered Not to Refer to Daughter as a Coconut

by Peter Magee on July 26, 2016

Daniel Rod

I recently read an article that told a story of a father being banned from referring to his 9-year old child using the derogatory term “coconut”.

The father, who was originally from Zimbabwe, was ordered by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in Townsville to refrain from referring to his daughter as a "coconut" as part of Orders made in parenting proceedings . The derogatory racial slur was described by the father as referring to someone who is “black on the outside and white on the inside”. The Father began using the term to describe his daughter following the Mother’s move to Queensland following separation.

It was revealed through Court documents that father would only speak to the daughter in Shona, a language spoken in Zimbabwe when speaking to his daughter over the phone despite the fact that she was unable to understand it.

The Judge further ordered that the daughter not spend time with the father in person, but that the time take place by Skype or telephone as the Judge held that the daughter would suffer emotional harm if the relationship were to involve face to face contact.

The mother commenced legal proceedings on the basis that the father was being difficult during the time his daughter spent with him. The father was of the belief that the daughter was losing contact with her African heritage and was therefore attempting – and failing – to coerce her into reconnecting with her heritage.

Judge Tree noted that the father used the words "snobbish coconut” in correspondence with the mother and the Judge held that he had no doubt that such words were stated directly to the daughter and that the father genuinely believe that this was the case.

The father also refused to communicate with the child unless she responded to her middle name. When the daughter refused to respond, the father refused to speak to the daughter until she responded to that name.

The father further argued that he spoke in Shona because that was the child’s natural cultural language and that he wanted the mother to teach their daughter that language and that culture. However, given that the daughter was not fluent in Shona and could not understand what the father had said, she expressed to her father that she wished to speak to him in English.

This is an example of the type of Order that the Court is able to make, such that the parents not engage in derogatory or inflammatory statements in front of or to their children. The Court often makes such Orders in an effort to protect the children and in these circumstances, it was clearly in the child’s best interests that such Orders were made, despite the fact that the Orders had the effect of reducing time with the father.

If you have any concerns about your children's cultural heritage not being supported by the other parent, do not hesitate to contact our Family Law Team for advice.

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