Don’t flee the country with kids

The Herald reports:

A Kiwi mother fled New Zealand with her three young children while her husband was at work, to get away from a marriage punctuated by abuse. But she has now been ordered to return her tamariki to their father – despite an Australian judge conceding he had exposed them to family violence.

The order was made under the Hague Convention – an international agreement that helps children return to the country they usually live in if they’re taken or kept overseas, so that parenting arrangements can be made. 

This is not surprising. If one parent unilaterally decides to leave the country with the kids, they almost always end up in the wrong – as they should. Unilaterally deciding that kids should have no contact with their other parent is not a decision for one parent to make. It is a decision for courts to make. And the level of potential harm to kids should be very significant to justify effectively removing one parent from their lives.

Taking the kids to live with her family in Australia seemed like her only option to get away from Ben, who she said subjected her to assaults, financial and emotional abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour.

It wasn’t. You can move out. You can get a protection order. You can move into a refuge. You can get your partner arrested if he has broken the law. None of these are easy, but deciding to flee the country with the kids is not the only option.

Alice outlined the abuse she had been subjected to – giving the judge examples – and raised “a litany of complaints” about his parenting.

She also believed Ben had, throughout the marriage, embarked on “a deliberate campaign to undermine her and her parenting” that included constant criticism and gaslighting.

Umm, criticising parenting styles off even skills is not a valid reason to have your kids stolen from you. And it isn;’t that uncommon parents do disagree on such things.

Ben denied the majority of Alice’s claims, telling the judge that she was “volatile, quick to anger, lacked emotional regulation” and was usually the aggressor in any conflict.

But he “readily made concessions against self-interest, without apparent hesitation” regarding some family harm incidents.

He even told the judge he was willing to foot the bill for the children coming home, and if Alice came with them he would vacate the family home for three months while she got resettled.

Sounded a decent offer.

The judge released her decision five days after the hearing.

“On either parent’s evidence, their relationship was conflictual, punctuated by frequent separations and reconciliations, and marred by acts of family violence,” she said.

“Each parent contends that the other parent was the aggressor, and that they were the victim.”

She said both parents had tried to provide honest and genuine information – but she felt some of Alice’s evidence was “coloured by her desire for her and the children to remain in Australia”.

The judge said it was not for her to decide how the children should be parented or their custody managed – her task was to assess whether they would be exposed to grave risk as defined under the Hague Convention if she ordered their return to New Zealand.

So sounds like fault on both sides.

Alice felt her experience of family violence was “minimised” in court, which was proof the Hague Convention was unfit for purpose in 2024.

“Should it be the discretion of a judge to determine whether or not abuse of any kind is ‘bad enough’?” she said.

Yes. Who else would decide? Any abuse is bad, but for one parent to lose all parenting rights, it needs to be substantial.

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