“Shattered Bonds: The Heartbreaking Toll of Family Court Delays on Parent-Child Relationships”(must read)
Dad can’t resume contact with child until Family Court delay clears
February 04, 2024, • 05:00am
Many parents have contacted Stuff about the impact Family Court procedures are having on relationships with their children – including how delays in the system are stopping access issues from being resolved. Nadine Roberts reports.
As a supervisor looked on, *Brendon tried to give his child Christmas in the four hours he was allocated.
Feeling broken by the Family Court system, he hid his sadness that he was only able to see his boy two weeks before Christmas.
While others feasted with family on the day, Brendon could only think of what he had lost.
It’s been that way for one-and-a-half years since his ex filed a Without Notice Application to the Family Court, alleging he had assaulted his child, *Morgan.
Brendon is just one of many parents who feels the Family Court system is costing him his relationship with his child.
Though an investigation by police and Oranga Tamariki found he hadn’t hurt his child, he has not been allowed to resume normal contact, because of court delays that meant he hasn’t had the chance to overturn the application.
The wait has affected Brendon’s relationship with his child who he says is stressed and anxious due to uncertainty and the disruption of routine and stability.
Now only able to have contact for four hours every Saturday on supervised visits, Brendon feels desperate and alone in his battle to regain shared custody.
He feels that court delays have cost him his job, because he was only getting three to four hours sleep a night dealing with stress, and caused him to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is depressed, on medication, and has been put into financial hardship because of court costs. He also feels that he has lost his child.
“We cannot get this time back. Morgan is equally distressed and feels a burden that this is their fault. No child should be made to feel this way”.
In December, Brendon went to the High Court for a judicial review but although the Justice said he had sympathy for him, he could only direct the Family Court to urgently set a hearing date.
In the meantime, he continues to lose time with his child.
“Children need Dads, not visitors.”
Without Notice Applications
Brendon is one of a long line of parents who have contacted Stuff about the impact Family Court procedures are having on their relationship with their children.
All have had contact cut because an ex partner has filed a Without Notice Application.
Under an application, a parent can apply for an urgent court order that suspends previous custody arrangements in an emergency situation, and is an important tool when abuse of a child is alleged.
However, the order doesn’t require concrete evidence.
Brendon believes the Family Court process is emotionally scarring children for life.
UNSPLASH / NOT-FOR-SYNDICATION
Brendon alleges his ex partner used the Without Notice Application process out of spite, in an effort to hurt him by stopping him seeing his child. He supplied all court documents as evidence.
The woman did not want to comment to Stuff.
He says the forced estrangement from his child began in March 2022 when his ex partner filed the first Without Notice Application seeking to change the parenting order that allowed him to have custody of Morgan 33% of the time.
Brendon said his ex wanted to stop him taking Morgan to see the Covid-19 protests in Wellington in 2021.
However, Brendon says they went early on in the protest, well before the riot on Parliament grounds on March 2, and stood well back.
“Morgan was never in any danger,” he said.
The judge then ordered a directions conference (where a judge will give directions to get a case ready for a hearing).
Not long after, the lawyer the court appointed to act on Morgan’s behalf claimed he was being beaten up by Brendon and his new partner and recommended Morgan was removed from Brendon’s care.
On May 5, the mother reported the alleged abuse to police.
“She wanted police to record and speak to Brendon about being too rough with him,” a police report seen by Stuff states.
She claimed Morgan told her his Dad had beaten him up, after he returned from a visit.
Brendon says he liked to have “rough and tumble” play with his child, but it was never violent, and just part of a normal relationship.
Police investigated the mother’s abuse allegation but found no reason to take the matter further. They also said Morgan had no bruising or injuries.
Oranga Tamariki also investigated and said a witness had seen Brendon playing roughly with his child, but dismissed it as abuse. Instead they rang him to tell him to be “more careful” when playing with Morgan, documents show.
But despite being cleared, the mother filed another Without Notice Application four days later, demanding full custody because Brendon was abusing their child.
Brendon says delays have damaged the bond he had with his child.
DMITRY RASHUNY/UNSPLASH / NOT-FOR-SYNDICATION
Later that month Morgan’s lawyer again recommended he be removed from the father’s care.
On June 30 2022, a Family Court lawyer issued an interim order that reduced him to two-hour supervised visits every week.
Since then, Brendon has been fighting to regain custody, and has been waiting for a hearing which is yet to be scheduled. Court-ordered psychologist reports of both Brendon and his ex partner further delayed proceedings for 10 months.
Six months after he lost shared custody, Brendon filed a Without Notice Application to try to get time with him.
Do you have a Family Court story to tell? Email Nadine Roberts
It was unsuccessful and in March a Judge ordered him to pay his ex partner $3000 he didn’t have after she filed for the costs of responding to his application.
He did get his weekly supervised visits with Morgan increased to four hours.
Frustrated as the process continued, Brendon reacted in an email to his ex partner and called her a “poor excuse for a mother”
Subsequently, after a judge termed the phrase psychological abuse, the woman applied for a protection order, which further delayed the court. She has since dropped the application.
Brendon’s waiting for his case to be heard and has complained to the Ministry of Justice.
Justice minister Paul Goldsmith is promising change in the first 100 days of government.
ROBERT KITCHIN / ROBERT KITCHIN
He’s been fighting for change and protested on several occasions outside courts, seeking to end lengthy delays.
“The extended waiting periods can heighten emotional strain, disrupt familial stability, and contribute to an atmosphere of uncertainty,” he said.
Brendon’s situation is eerily similar to another father’s previously highlighted by Stuff.
*Sam’s family were so concerned about delays and Without Notice Applications after his suicide, they decided to share his story and the sense of hopelessness he felt about a system that enabled children to become estranged from a parent.
Sam left a note in the sleep-out where he died in the first two days of June 2019.
“Fix the Family court,” it read.
The 25-year-old adored his four-year-old child but had been put through years of lengthy Family Court processes that cost him time with him due to the nature of Without Notice Applications.
When Sam’s child was 6 months old, his former partner made an application, claiming he’d physically hurt him. For three months Sam had to live without seeing his child until an investigation cleared him of the allegations.
While he held no animosity towards the mother, who had mistakenly believed some injuries were signs of abuse instead of a playing accident with the child’s aunty, it took a huge toll both financially and on his relationship with his child.
Just over three years later, and after many custody debates, Sam found himself on the end of another Without Notice Application for domestic abuse of his child.
Instantly, he was suspended from seeing his child every weekend in what had become part of Sam’s and his extended family’s life. Without that family time, he couldn’t understand what was happening.
Just eight days before, Oranga Tamariki (OT) had notified him that his child had told a kindergarten supervisor that his father hit and swore at him.
Sam did not know why his child said what he did and was blindsided by the investigation.
However, 10 days later, OT advised Sam the allegation of abuse was not substantiated, and contact arrangements could resume.
A day later Sam’s ex-partner and her lawyer filed a Without Notice Application, meaning he couldn’t see his child until a Family Court hearing took place.
Already in $20,000 credit card debt to deal with ongoing legal fees, Sam’s mental health was deteriorating.
He couldn’t see a way out and feared what the extended estrangement would do to his child.
Three weeks later, Sam took his life.
Now Sam’s family want to push for change in the Family Court system to ensure the same tragedy doesn’t happen again.
“Nothing will bring Sam back,” his mother says of her choice to speak out. “But other parents going through this will know they are not alone.”
Minister of Justice Paul Goldsmith is promising change in the first 100 days of the new National-led coalition government.
Justice minister Paul Goldsmith says reducing delays across the entire court system is his priority in the first 100 days of government.
ROBERT KITCHIN / STUFF
“Reducing delays across the entire court system are our current priorities in justice. Reducing delays in the Family Court is part of that broader effort”.
Goldsmith said he recognised the uncertainty and “often substantial harm” court delays cause.
However, he would not comment on the current Without Notice Application process, nor would Court Minister Nicole McKee who has previously been vocal about improving the Family Court system.
For Brendon, any change will be too late.
“Prolonged delays are frankly unacceptable,” he says. “And it’s added considerable stress and inconvenience to my situation and most importantly it has caused severe damage to the bond and attachment I have with my son.”
*Due to strict Family Court reporting rules, we have used pseudonyms
Family Court reforms can’t come soon enough – lawyer
A law professor says the family court system is broken and changes can’t come soon enough. (First published in June 2019)Play Video
Family Court reforms can’t come soon enough – lawyer
A law professor says the family court system is broken and changes can’t come soon enough. (First published in June 2019)RNZ
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