September 11, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This post continues from yesterday’s dealing with this article out of New Zealand (Newsroom, 9/8/17).

The piece highlights two cases in which a child is taken from a parent by police officers who are acting on orders from a family court. In New Zealand, those are called “uplifts.” The case I dealt with yesterday involved a mother and her five-year-old daughter; today’s involves a father and his 14-year-old son.

In both cases, the authors, Melanie Reid and Cass Mason, emphasize the emotional upset on the part of children forced from their homes by uniformed police. What they barely allude to, indeed what they describe in only the vaguest terms, is what the parents did to encourage the court to order the “uplift” of the kids. Reading the article one could easily conclude that, really, nothing amiss had happened and that, for some unknowable reason, the judges simply decided to cause trauma to the children.

And yet, what we know about family courts is that, once a parenting time order is in place, they seldom change it. Anyone requesting such a change must present evidence of a change in circumstances that’s important enough to warrant the change.

So Reid and Mason’s description of the mother’s actions in the first case barely hint at what apparently took place. She appears to have kept the child from her father for as long as five years and, once he got the custody order changed making him the primary parent, violated it. She’d apparently violated the previous orders as well. Only a person who’s well-versed in family law could figure that out from their description.

Here’s their description of the second case.

According to the parenting order, the boy’s mother has day-to-day care. He spends weekends, and some school holidays with his father. His 16-year-old sister lives with the pair’s father, and his current wife.

Last July, an application from the children’s father for an overseas holiday at the beginning of the year was approved by a Family Court judge.

However, when the family returned home from the holiday at the end of January, the father was served with an order instructing the boy be returned to his mother, with his passport, at midday on January 29.

Again, to hear Reid and Mason tell it, everything is sweetness and light. Dad took the boy on holiday abroad and when they returned, out of the blue, he was served with a court order that included turning over his son’s passport. In short, Dad had done nothing wrong, but the court issued a draconian order anyway and then followed it up with a draconian enforcement order.

They want us to believe that the court acted without cause. I doubt it. My very strong belief is that Dad took the child abroad, but failed to return on the appointed date. That’s why the court issued the order and required him to turn over the passport. The judge concluded that Dad was a risk to abduct the boy and wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.

Dad of course pretends to be aghast at the court’s action.

“It’s not like I am an unsuitable parent. My daughter lives with me, I’m a law-abiding citizen with a completely clean police record.

That may or may not be true, but whatever the case, it raises an interesting point: why didn’t Reid and Mason interview the other parents, i.e. the father in the first case and the mother in the second? My guess is that the answer is all too easy. I strongly suspect those parents would have cast a wholly different light on the cases, would have pointed out that their opposite numbers in fact behaved in such a way as to require the judges to take the actions they did. Not wanting to cast doubt on their narrative of choice, Reid and Mason carefully avoided inconvenient facts.

In the case of the 5-year-old girl who features in Newsroom’s video story, her mother has not seen her for 56 days. Her attempts to talk to her on her 6th birthday failed when a phone call was not able to be facilitated between the girl’s lawyer, the CYFS case manager and the father.

In the case of the 14-year-old boy, the father has not seen his son since the February 1 removal. His access to his son was changed from “unsupervised” weekend access to “supervised” access because he breached the parenting order to return the boy to his mother.

Again, Reid and Mason let those facts stand uninvestigated. Why haven’t the parents seen the children? Both have parenting orders granting them access, so why haven’t they seen them? Are the other parents withholding them? That’s a dubious proposition. After all, surely Reid and Mason would say so if that were the case. A reasonable reading of their behavior is that it’s not uncommon for alienating parents to do just that; when they don’t get their way, they opt out of the system altogether. In fact, that’s what the father in the second case has done.

The father says while he remains totally devastated, he believes there is no point in engaging further with the Family Court process.

The limited information provided by the article could easily describe two alienating parents and the authors’ unwillingness to seek any voices that would contradict their narrative makes me suspicious that their chosen examples are not those of children wronged by courts, but of children wronged by their parents.

Finally, nowhere in the article do Reid and Mason offer any suggestion about what they or anyone they interviewed think courts should do. They’re unhappy with uplifts by police, but nowhere suggest what courts should do if not that. When faced with parents who violate court orders, courts have two choices; they can do something or nothing. Most of us realize that doing nothing isn’t a good idea. So what should be done? If enforcement by the police isn’t the right thing, what is?

Neither Reid nor Mason nor the dean of the law school nor the aggrieved parents nor the domestic violence advocate they quote have a word to say on what is, after all, the most obvious question.

 

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