Today we’re re-visiting one of our Migrants Tales with the intention of drawing attention to the plight of the many immigrant single parents and their children who are trapped in New Zealand because their ex-partner refuses to allow their child to leave the country.
Very often the wishes of the child are not taken into account, the court tends to favour it being brought up in New Zealand, regardless of its country of origin and the suitability of the parent that wishes to stay.
We first published this tale in October 2010 and it attracted a fair amount of discussion among our readers here on E2NZ, including the author. All of their comments are copied below.
We are offering to put parents in touch with each other in private so that they can exchange information and provide mutual support. If you’d like to be part of that network (especially if you’ve already left a message) please leave a comment at the end of this post saying you would like to participate, be sure to provide a valid email address.
This account originally appeared on an immigration forum and formed part of our Migrants Tales series, it was written by Helene F
I am in a heart breaking situation and i wondered if anyone else had been in a similar one. If so they I would love to hear from you, or any other thoughts.
I am British and my daughter was born in England in 2007, her father is a kiwi and he was on a working holiday over in London. The relationship was never really ideal, but we decided it was a great idea to move to New Zealand to give our daughter a great childhood etc, so that’s wehat we did when she was 7 months old.
Unfortunately New Zealand and I never really gelled, and I really have tried hard. I was disappointed with my job prospects over here mainly having enjoyed a great and lucrative career over in the UK, and missed the family support that I had at home in England. Unfortunately my relationship with my ex-partner dissolved for various reasons. When did finally separate we had been living in New Zealand for 2 years. We never married or anything.
I had been thinking for quite some time about returning home to England, but my ex-partner refused to allow our daughter to come back with me. I then appplied to the NZ courts to allow myself and our daughter to return to England. This was back in January and I have been on an emotional and isolating journey ever since. Unfortunately the law in New Zealand is not on my side and I am feeling very much the foreigner over here. I really wish I had known the risks before I came over here. It seems that New Zealand are very reluctant to allow a child to relocate out of New Zealand once they have been resident here. I have provided my lawyer with so many examples of reasons for us relocating back to the UK such as finances, family, friends, house, my parents being ill, but nothing is taken into account with any of this and I am so shocked by it!
I have never tried to do a “runner” or anything like that (I’ve read other scary stories about people who have tried it!) and am friendly and supportive of my ex and his relationship with our daughter. It’s a such as sad situation, especailly for our daughter but I feel that I can’t face living in New Zealand until she turns 16. So I’m faced with the likelihood that my daughter is trapped in New Zealand and therefore so am I. I am desprately miserable here, but what can I do? I could leave anyway without my daughter, and from speaking to my lawyer the courts here would happily take that situation and keep my daughter here in NZ.
Hopefully we will get to a court hearing in January, which is a year since I applied to the courts. Feeling very lost. Would love some opinions.” (NB. emphasis ours)
Responses left on E2NZ
“I am in a similar situation, and what is more, I know 3 other women in that same situation JUST in my town (which is not large) in New Zealand. Like you, I encouraged my child’s relationship with father despite his issues and tried to keep things as civil as possible, didn’t try any runners, and got absolutely no credit for any of it. I do not socialise widely, so there could be yet more mothers within a few km of here, as well, but I wouldn’t know it. I suspect there are actually a great many of us all told, all sitting quietly in purgatory. Maybe we should get together and talk. It’s hard to share with others, because they just don’t understand.
In my case, there was more than one child concerned. Only my one child with the Kiwi father was of interest to the court, not my other children (who have a different father–previous marriage). Yes, we believed the hype about it being a “better place for children”, hype also repeated by the one child’s father, and it took about a year and a half before the bubble burst. The other children’s dislike of living here, and the distress their Kiwi stepfather had caused them with his behaviour (not to mention issues that would have gained me custody anywhere else but here), was of no concern or interest to them. So while the mother (myself) and other children did not want to stay in New Zealand, the father wanted to stay here in “his” home, and played his home field advantage (after stonewalling our life until he GOT jurisdiction in the first place), so the youngest child was ordered to stay, and so therefore I had to stay if I wanted to be near him and watch over him (a necessity with the father the way he is). I found very little of our reality was represented in court, and the father was catered to enormously. They worked off of a strict formula of “recent research on children needing two parents”, and nothing else but that, and in fact I sensed the judgment had already been made before we even went to court, based on that one gross rule of thumb. Moreover, one that derives from faulty conclusions of research whose raw data did not actually support those conclusions (see http://www.thelizlibrary.org/site-index/site-index-frame.html#soulhttp://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/lamb-kelly.html). Their focus was very narrow and formulaic. Everything the father had done was utterly minimised, and everything he alleged about myself was blown out of proportion and listened to in an effort to “balance the parties’ crimes out/equalise us” and thus dispose of the case because of their enormous backlog (years!). It was clear during the proceedings that the judge had not even read the details of the affidavits (what details I had managed to ensure stayed in there, which were very few). The affidavits were altered beyond recognition by my lawyer, who kept telling me I was not permitted to be negative in any way, because it would “go against me”, and scratched large numbers of relevant facts out of them, so our reality could not even be truthfully represented.
Madam, you can’t say you are miserable in paradise – they’ll think you are crazy! And of course you shouldn’t be able to take the child, then, crazy lady. You can’t say that you can’t make ends meet here – they’ll just tell you that you’re bad with money. Didn’t you know that New Zealand is an inexpensive place to live? Of course, that is bad for the child too, to have a mum who seemingly doesn’t count her pennies. There is absolutely nothing you can say to these people that will convey the utter misery of living in their remote, provincial, drug-ridden, overpriced and opportunity-less hellhole because “it’s not New Zealand – it’s never New Zealand. YOU are the one with the problem if you want to leave”. God forbid you decide on counseling to help you cope (funds were earmarked to provide more counseling given the number of suicides Family Court was dealing with!), because the other party will make hay of that in court. So you can’t even go for counseling without it being used against you. The thick layers of bureaucracy and inability to simply tell it like it was – it was Kafkaesque. It took years even to get a hearing in the first place. Years! By then my other children had grown up in the shadow of the dispute and so years of the life we WANTED and still want to live have simply been swallowed up by NZ Family Court.
We, too, are in limbo and wondering how long we can last like this, everyone having their plans on hold (including people back home who want to see if we can return or not) so one child can be near one parent, who simply wants to keep a job that he likes on his own home field, and nothing more. New Zealand is VERY strongly anti-relocation, among other things because it is so expensive to travel here that they fear the child will not be able to come back and visit the other parent, once permitted to leave, due to the high cost of air travel. So they just choose to trap migrant parents here instead. Great solution, eh. I am sure there are scores of us living in this purgatory. I have been vocal about this issue with any couples I know who are not happy living here, and one already, I know, as a result of my warnings, has refused to have children with her Kiwi partner until they could move back to her own, more developed homeland. Needless to say, she breathed a sigh of relief once she got back safe and sound. I hope that your sharing your story, and me sharing mine, will make people rethink moving here, or rethink having children here if they do not absolutely love it. I hope to god you can leave before she is 16. That is one long sentence, and one I am sure you don’t deserve. The new developments in Rosa v. Rosa (that is, the mother in the remote dismal mining town in Australia who was trapped so her daughter could be near her father, who refused to leave his job for everyone’s sake) may have some tiny ripples, but I am holding out no hope. I am going to keep filing (and thereby unfortunately being forced to use income that should rightfully be buying a home and college for all these children!) until we get to go home, where we want to be. It could be that your daughter’s opinion (if she herself wants to go back to the UK) would be listened to before the age of 16, and you could go home sooner. But generally, the longer they can keep the kids here, the more accustomed to the status quo in NZ they become, and they make friends and are afraid to change, etc., and the less chance they will share your opinion that the UK is a better place to live. I was disgusted by my experience with the courts. To anyone reading this – New Zealand is not in favor of relocation, so don’t think that you can “go back home” if you don’t like it here. You may well be chained for life if you want to stay near your children.john says:
im yet another one trapped in purgatory here in nz. the one thing that i never can understand is how people in nz always tell me i should just go back home as im just the father, and start a new life. there is no way i could ever leave my children. unfortunatly i have to live in a underdeveloped, expensive, low job prospect country that i have nothing in common with ( im canadian which some say is similar, but i havnt found that at all)
seems there are alot of other expats trapped here in nz.. might be worth setting up a dedicated web page on the issue, if any one is interested let me knowHelene F says:
It’s me, the original author of this article. Courts not gone well. Unable to relocate home to UK for the “forseeable future” Really would love to get in touch for some support and friend makingLimbolowernow says:
Giving you more idea than “foreseeable future” would be kinder than letting you fester in limbo down here. It’s the limbo that kills, doesn’t it. If you knew what your sentence would actually be (until they are 16 and can choose where they live? can you even stay sane until then? will your kid even want to go at that point? will you be a lifer?), it would be different. You could mark the days off on a calendar. Years of not knowing and fruitlessly hoping “they’ll let you go next time”…it’s a kind of torture.
John, I have heard horror stories from blokes, too. One man in AKL had a meth-using Kiwi wife. Made no difference.news reader says:
One very painful thing is that when you move to New Zealand, you do expect to be able to travel some, to keep in touch with relatives and friends back home. It seems like it will be just an air ticket away if something happens. But when you move here, your money flees. You do not have that expendable income anymore, and travel back home is impossibly expensive. So when relatives or friends become ill, you cannot just zip back to be with them easily. It is terribly painful to be down in the middle of nowhere and unable to leave easily when relatives and friends back home are struggling with illness. You do want to be with them, to help and comfort and even give money, but you cannot do any of those things.Nataliya. says:
A lady named Elena Ustyuzhanina had a very sad story on http://www.petitiononline.co.nz not long ago.
She experienced the same migrant discrimination in favour of the Kiwi father who was a sailor, and the court snatched her young child from her and gave to the sailor father, who is at sea all the time and the The poor biological mother, the one who gave birth to and raised this child to the age she is now, cannot even see her own child, because they blamed her for the child’s fear of the father and would not recognise the fear was real.
Surely more of the same nonsense as people report above.Helene F says:
Oh my god, I find that disgusting. It;s like they think the dad is MORE important than the mum, just because he’s the local boy and the mum is the foreigner. Poor mum, my heart goes out to this lady! Believe me, I know, I am the original author of this article. When I first came to NZ, I would never have believed such prejudices existed in this day and age. My ex is a lay about pot smoking adolescent of a man with no career or motivation (I could really go into so many reasons here, but I won’t). I, on the other hand am organised, academic, caring, just an all round good egg, not to mention an evidentially loving mother. And amazingly, the NZ courts will justify in their twisted way brownie points for the kiwi boy. The one that really incensed me was the justification for him being on the DPB (for those of you from the UK, this is the kiwi version of the dole). They actually stated that for him to be unemployed was in our daughters best interests because it meant that he was constantly available to our daughter and that takes precedence over a working parent. C’mon, since when does a school age child benefit from a parent claiming benefits!? Most 2 parents families NEED to work. Because a the end of the day our drive is to provide for our children. I feel like my way of thinking is not just from a different country, but from a different planet some days. And I’m a tax payer…grr!stucktoo says:
Contact the webmaster! I am sure many of us on this thread can be put in touch for support. Living in New Zealand puts an entirely different spin on the usual Family Court horrors.mahogany says:
Was led to your site after reading about this lady’s plight and finding this page.
I was searching because have a friend stuck in New Zealand for the same reason. I thought I could find some information to help her, but I don’t think I can. Some child custody law was passed that made it less likely that anyone could get out, she said. At the same time, there is a terrible recession, few jobs, especially for foreigners, and high costs. New Zealanders and foreigners are all trying to leave. Based on what two Canadian friends with residency who had brushes in the New Zealand courts informed me, Kiwis seem to know exactly what to say in their own courts. Trained to parrot lines from an early age, as that poor woman and others found out.mahogany says:
I found this too. and segments cut out
An Interview with Jeremy Morley – of International Family Law in NY
“Most countries look at the best interests of the child but what that means, varies incredibly according to who the local judge is and what the local standards are. It is a function of predicting what a court would do based on what you think sounds reasonable in the circumstances. But countries like New Zealand and Australia will be extremely hard to relocate out of, whereas England is likely to be much easier.”
Is New Zealand similar to Australia?
“I deal with huge numbers of typically women, who just want to go home. They are the “trailing spouse,” they trail behind their husband as he moves to NZ, or they fell in love with him somewhere and he is from NZ and the deal was that they would settle there. When the relationship ends she is left with no network, family, no friends and sometimes no job”
Huge numbers.anne hindle says:
I was wondering if you have any situations like my friends. she is the mother of 2 children and all three are originally British and have now received permanent passports in NZ having been resident for 3.5 years and the father also British and with a permanent passport having been resident for 3.5 years has walked out on them for another woman but doesnt want the children to leave NZ. My friend and her children do however want to return home permanently to be with her family but are fearful that unless he signs the papers they won’t be allowed to. What advice can you give me for her. Are there any organisations she can contact.courtwatch says:
It is incredible that they can even trap children of other nationalities here if there is some Kiwi stake in the child’s affairs. But they do – all the time.debbie says:
get her to get some consent orders that in the event of a family member becoming ill that in such situation she can legally travel with the children to visist a sick relative….. Then just make sure someone is sick…. ” a relative” as determined by law could be anyone so to the finer details make sure its not too picky down to immediate family make it broad and leave it open you would be amazed how many great aunts and second cousins are unwell underhanded but not impossible!!guest says:
she is screwed. They will keep the kids forever and you will be stuck looking at him with the chippie having your kids half the time. sorry. my children want to leave too and the courts will not let them.
interestingly they gotothe end of the world to pin parents down here who want to relocate against partner’s wishes but they are not too keen on tracking down parental abductors TO New Zealand. They just want to stop ones from leaving that their citizens and residents want to chain here in Tar Pit.
“Even countries that have signed the Hague Treaty agreeing to honor custody orders are reluctant to devote their resources toward tracking parental abductors. Some are more reluctant than others: France, Ireland, New Zealand and the Eastern Bloc countries are the least interested in pursuing such cases, underground organizers claim.”courtwatch says:
To the posters on this thread. I read that the court will not permit requested relocations of divorced parents out of Christchurch after the earthquakes, because of the bias against relocation and in favour of geographic status quo. Not a problem for a kid to have a building fall on them or be waiting for the next rumble or liquefaction episode, as long as they have both parents in the same town to be crushed along with t hem! LOL! Way to go and so typical – local rules, global drools.debbie says:
I am a kiwi stuck in Australia, the best thing the NZ govt ever did was allow our overseas born children when you are not married to become NZ citizens without the other parents consent, with this in mind I must agree even though I am stuck here the NZ law still on this small level works in my favour. I would like to see someone do a study on the impact of all this on the children and the stranded parent! its wrong on so many levels but what actually is the answer! when it ruins peoples lives and opportunities it cant be right! The other side is that out of spite and malice these other parents generally use this law because they “can” without the best interests of the child or the thought for the other parent. I think they should have an international law where parenting agreements are made prior to birth for dual nationalised children/ and parents living away from home countries that are upheld on an international level. There are no support net works for these parents as family certainly is not around and the cost of travel as a single parent is ridiculous with managing children as well. Come on people lets make a site where we can really nut this out and legally create a UN solution????Helene F says:
I totally agree with you- a pre-nup of some sort for parents of duel nationality should be an option. With a world of increasing travel and international relationships, it common sense (oh with hind sight- yes I’m a stuck mum in New Zealand). They should make it a clause on your immigration papers when you sign them “What protocol have you got in place should you relationship dissolve in X time?” We need to change the procedures for the sake of international families. Saving the court time, heart break, expense and depression of people. We all think of relocating abroad as exiting, but we need back up clauses.In The Too Hard Box says:
I do not know whether a pre-nup would trump their COCA justifications. Do not trust a verbal or written agreement that you can “return if it doesn’t work out”. Mine counted for nothing in the end, and I had it in writing – though it was not a pre-nup. Proof of this kind means nothing to the courts, who seem to believe the solution to the world’s problems means keeping a father in a child’s day-to-day life, regardless of the father’s actions to the detriment of his own family’s well-being or the child’s close attachment to, or need for, her mum. Father – the magic ingredient This is typical of the simplistic solutions they prefer in New Zealand, but the problem’s everywhere now. When women wanted the vote and entered the workforce, they left the window open for men to snatch some of women’s historic turf, and in some cases it’s fair enough that they do, while in others it is not.stella luna says:
Im reading your posts with interest. I left my ex partner and my younger son and moved to the UK with my elder son as I could no longer tolerate my ex and wanted to have a life with a career. It was a hard thing to do and I was punished thoroughly by my ex as he made contact with my youngest son almost impossible for about 4 years until I eventually contacted the hague commision. Solicitors for the Hague in London were fantastic yet those in NZ which represented the commission were less so with one advising my ex to involve interpol in case I came and stole my son away…ridiculous and paranoid behaviour given that I had a fantastic career and lifestyle in London and was trying to have access with my son through the right channels. He was never sanctioned for breaking the agreement to provide opportunities for access. Through the courts and with the help of a barrister in Christchurch I eventually got my son over for access visits for a month at a time and by the time he was 11 he was able to come for a 6 month trial which he greatly enjoyed. It is only after the 6 months is up that the child then reverts to the other country’s jurisdiction and the counsel for child (or should I say my exs free lawyer) made sure my son was brought back to New Zealand and made a permanent order immediately that he was not to leave again …I have decided to no longer fight….the NZ family courts appear to have an agenda and allow their counsel for child to run the show…I cherish the 6 months I have had with my son but I think its NZ for him with its substandard education and lack of opportunities. My ex has already made it very difficult to have phone access again and I doubt the courts will do anything about it. I no longer waste money on lawyers and just tell my son to make his own decisions…this had the most impact….as far as you who are still in NZ…I had no idea as I thought my case was very isolated…I wish you all the best and encourage you to allow your children to present their own wishes to the courts after the age of about 9. Try to start off with holidays home and build from there if you can.Helene F says:
Oh my love, my heart goes out to you. Although I haven’t left my child in NZ, I have at times, seriously thought about it, leaving my beloved baby and going home to the UK for my home and financial security and my lovely family (of course you do when put in this position).It’s such a heart breaking position to be in and I totally understand you. I actually almost decided that I would leave without my child as I was so miserable in NZ. In New Zealand they seem perfectly happy to lt you go, knowing that a child will be without their mother. Oh but how reluctant they are to have a child face life without their father. OK, I know it’s a controversial subject. My my life long belief is that children, particularly in their first 5 years need mum more than dad, I do believes it’s a fundamental biological need (unless mum is crazy bananas or severely handicapped in some way) It is, I believe that NZ is so overly politically correct that they give presdence to the father over the mother because father rights movements have been so active in NZ for the last 5 years. Had your situation happened pre 2005 you probably would have been able to take your baby boy home to the UK. I often wonder, what will these children think when they are old enough to understand? Strangeley enough as I child I was in a similar sort or arrangement with my father having custody of me in the UK . I wish I had been under my mother’s primary care to this day (and I’m 34 now). I feel resentful to the courts of the 1970′s. I never imagined history repeating itself. I actually have a stronger relationship as an adult with my mum, who I love dearly, for all she went through, than my father. My father would often alienate me against my mother which I didn’t realise until I was a later teenager. Which is scary, because as a child you always trust and believe your parent. One day your son will come back to you with a stronger and different bond. I don’t blame my mother at all, I sympathise with her and we are on the same page. Plus and can moan about my dad and she totally gets it! I still speak to dad, but I can completely understand why mu mum left him. My mum is independent and strong. Do’;t you worry, your younger son will see that too one day xxxViolet says:
According to http://www.missingpersons.gov Child Abduction Report, “New Zealand consistently has the highest incidence of abduction and access applications.”
Until 2001, most abductions were into New Zealand. Then the tide changed, and now more abductions are out of New Zealand. Most of the abductions to New Zealand were “from” Australia.
Read “Janie’s” story in comments below this piece. I know a few cases like this. She is actually not alone at all.
“Promised a good life” – yea right.
“Reply to Donna Richards
Donna this may be a late reply, but you need to look at all facts before making such obviously uninformed comments.
I came to NZ in 2000 after finding out that my husband who has both dual citezenship in NZ and the UK, that he had never applied for residency for myself and two older boys from my previous marriage. A month after getting here, he dumped us all, stating he no longer loved me, put a caps order on our son we had together in Scotland, thus I could have been kicked out of the country with my older boys, whilst my youngest kept against his will here in NZ, by what I found out was a Meth addict. I was also soon to find out that he had left my country under a very large cloud of debt. He stole my passports and entered the internal affairs office makign our son a citizen by decent, though he didn’t even need my passport to do this. I logged this with the police as I knew he had stolen my passport, and that of my middle son…Not his own! he denied this, but now internal affairs has it logged that he indeed did have my passports!
You talk of morals and rights, but where were my rights? I married a man who promised me a good life in NZ, and it has been 8 years of hell, worst thing was I paid for us all to move here. Family have died whilst being held here, and I couldn’t go home to bury my poor father as I didn’t have residency status, and would not have been allowed back in.
I have now decided to take this man on as before I had a nervous breakdown because of his abuse of me and my children, ad I intend to let the NZ, and British media know exactly what has happened to us.
Please remember that some of us deserve to take our children home, and whiilst I did not have the fight then, I do now, and I will make it known so that no other woman or man has ths happen to them, and that certain countries are almost fanatical when it comes to family law.
I have even stated that he himself is able to return to Britain with our child, so he can be with him, but he has such fear after what he did to us, that he is utterly determined to ruin any chance our little boy has of having a good life with a family that ruly love him.
NZ has not been kind to myself or my children, and they would be better cared for in the UK, with family that actually care what happens to my little boy.
Don’t beat us in the know ith your maorals, silly woman, know the facts before you spout utter crap about something you obvosly know nothing about.
Janie”A Thomas says:
“Feeling very much the foreigner”. I know one local woman who was in a divorce case a few years ago. She was 1st generation Kiwi but had a distinctly ethnic (Eastern European) name. Her husband’s family was Anglo, of an older family, with a conventional Kiwi Anglo-Scots name. She said (in her 100% pure Kiwi accent) that she had been given the “foreigner treatment” in court. Her husband and the husband’s counsel knew exactly what to say to encourage this treatment. How many generations do you have to live here to not be a foreigner and be given the “treatment”? Or is it better to just change your name?