Newsroom’s investigation into without-notice child uplift warrants carried out by uniformed police, sometimes under the cover of night, has shocked New Zealand. Melanie Reid shares a letter she says is a typical account of what families involved in the process have experienced

During the investigation of the Taken by the State story, I have heard from many desperate parents telling me disturbing stories about their involvement with the Family Court.

I do not and cannot be across every case, nor can I investigate the validity of every claim. But the overarching theme is that of a Family Court system in dire need of an overhaul.

Central to nearly all of these cases are the following factors:

* Judges not applying the Domestic Violence Act

* Officials not acting in the best interest of the child

* Families with a general lack of access to legal counsel, including advice on how to understand or navigate through heavy litigation

* the traumatic uplifting of children from their homes and other places of assumed safety

* the Court’s obsession with Parental Alienation Syndrome

I have been talking for some time to a woman with three children who has been a victim of domestic violence. Her ex-husband has a prominent job in a major New Zealand organisation.

When she separated from him, she told me he moved into a house around the corner from her and their three children.

According to her, he stalked her repeatedly and broke a protection order countless times.

Eventually she moved down country, with her kids – but without the permission of the Family court.

I will never forget her calling me in tears late one night, saying the police were coming to uplift her kids if she wasn’t back in Auckland by 3.00pm the next day. She cried, telling me how the domestic violence brochures say “It’s not okay, get out”. She explained she did get out, yet the Family Court “send you straight back to the guy that you are running from.”

She packed up her three kids and flew to Auckland, and has been staying in emergency accommodation so her ex-husband can see the children at the time stated in the interim parenting order. (So she is not breaching the Family Court order.)

She returned down country, and late yesterday received notification that the kids were likely to be uplifted if they were not at the father’s access visit today at 9.45 am.

“If Mrs XXX does not make the children available, a warning is issued that in the event Mr XXXX makes a without-notice application for an interim parenting order for reversal of care, then this will be fairly considered.”

This morning, she told me she was going to withdraw from the Family Court process, and emailed me a letter she had written to the courts.

She understands she is effectively breaking the law, but she says she feels she has no option.

She said: “I just kept believing that some judge somewhere would see some sense.”

I asked her if we could also publish the letter she wrote to the Family Court. She has given her consent to do so, and it is reproduced below.

This letter is written from her perspective only. Newsroom does not condone illegal activity, and this letter is being published as a matter of public interest. It is typical of many cases we now have on file where parents claim domestic violence is being ignored by the Family Court.

Notice to Withdraw from the Family Court

I came to the Family Court late November 2015 for the protection of my children and I.

My ex-husband has, and continues to, physically, verbally, and psychologically abuse the children and I.

Despite a Protection Order, the Family Court has not kept any of us safe. It has forced us into continued and frequent contact with our abuser under the pretext of “being in the best interests of the children”.

I have always tried to gain agreement before litigating but when I have then had to put in applications, these have been put on notice without a hearing date being set. In contrast, my ex-husband, has been a vexatious litigator who has always had a hearing date set at the time of application, with the most recent hearing taking place less than 24 hours post application and without my ability to be present due to not receiving notification in time.

A warrant was issued yesterday even though my ex-husband lied to get that warrant issued. He advised his Counsel (and the Judge) that overnight contact did not take place on Saturday the 12th of August yet overnight contact took place on Sunday the 13th as mutually agreed because the children were all still unwell on Saturday.

I have been forced time and time again to choose between keeping my children safe and putting their well being/best interests first versus breaching court orders.

Breaching court orders has been treated by the Family Court as worse than child abuse.

A protective mother is being treated like a criminal and is being threatened with a reversal of interim care on the basis of parental alienation even when she is still taking the children to contact and even though parental alienation is not a recognised condition.

Lawyers for children and psychologists, who are not trained in family violence, are helping make decisions on safety, custody, and relocation when there has been family violence.

Abusers are empowered to get warrants when there is no issue of safety in the custodial parent’s care. And what is worse, these warrants are being granted and enforced.

Abusers are allowed to make unsubstantiated claims and allowed to commit perjury without consequence.

Abusers are being empowered to go for without-notice applications for reversal of care and these are to be given “fair consideration”.

Frequent and unsupervised face-to-face contact has been expected even when there has been abuse and that abuse has continued post separation. Frequent and unsafe contact has been expected even though the law states that a child’s safety is supposed to be of paramount consideration.

The child’s lawyer has stated on several occasions that “the children have nothing meaningful to say” even though this is at odds with the law which states that the children have a right to be heard.

Judges, who have made orders, are allowed to dismiss leave to appeal their own orders without justification and when they directed the evening before that it was to go on notice with a response time of seven days.

I applied for relocation back in April 2016 and this has a hearing set down for January 2018 even though the law states that matters should be dealt with in a timeframe relevant to the child.

The interim parenting order was supposed to be reviewed by the time my son starts school but this is not going to be the case.

Our human rights have been breached. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child have been breached.

On this basis, I am withdrawing from the Family Court effective immediately.

I am the children’s primary caregiver and guardian.

If my children are uplifted by police, this will be an abduction because there is no basis for such an uplift to occur. They are safe and they are loved in my/their home.

Find Newsroom’s Taken By The State series here
* See the original investigation
* Read responses by politicians Jacinda Ardern, Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett, and the Children’s Commissioner
* Opinion: Domestic violence victim advocate Catriona MacLennan
* Opinion: Retired Family Court judge John Adams
* Opinion: Child psychology expert Nicola Atwool

Melanie Reid is Newsroom's lead investigations editor.

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