TODAY |

NZ mum escapes abusive partner after rare win in Australian court

By Ben Strang of rnz.co.nz

A New Zealand mother who was forced into hiding to escape her abusive Australian partner is now back home with her child after a rare win in the Australian courts.

The mother had fled the country for New Zealand after she and her daughter both suffered physical violence at the hands of the man.

But she was forced to go back to Australia under the Hague Convention, which sets the rules for international custody disputes.

RNZ spoke to Melanie (name changed) in January after a district court judge ordered her to return to Australia with her daughter in November.

She said she'd spent two months homeless and in hiding from her abusive former partner, and she had been unable to get any financial or legal assistance from the Australian government because she wasn't a citizen.

Despite that, Melanie went through the courts in an attempt to get custody of her daughter through the Family Resolution legal process.

Her lawyer suggested offering her ex-partner visitation rights with his daughter, and it set the ball rolling for her return home.

"I said, 'okay, I trust my lawyer, we'll offer him visitation'," Melanie said, "but he just declined it anyway."

"He said he was too busy running his business, and he didn't want to travel four hours.

"That's when I got really upset. I was frustrated because he'd forced us back.

"The person running the conference was just like, 'wow, he's something else'."

As a result, Melanie was given sole responsibility for her daughter.

The courts ruled she was able to change the name of the child if she chose, and she was even allowed to remove the father's name from the birth certificate.

Melanie said her case showed how hard it could be for a New Zealander forced back to Australia under the Hague Convention.

"I mean, obviously not every case is the same and there are fathers out there that want to be fathers," she said.

"But it's coming out more often than not that there are mothers in the same situation, and they're not so lucky.

"They're over there for more than the six months we were, and I can't imagine it being harder than it was for us."

She said judges need to rethink what they deem to be an intolerable situation for a child, which is one of the only ways the Hague Convention can be overruled.

As it stands, the law doesn't consider the mother's situation when deciding on a Hague Convention case.

Women's Refuge chief executive Ang Jury said the case was a perfect example of the control perpetrators of domestic violence assert over their partners.

She said it highlighted why the Hague Convention needed to be amended.

"Our awareness now of what domestic violence looks like, what it sounds like, what the tactics are that are used including the way the law is used to control women and prolong the abuse when she's trying to get away from it," Dr Jury said.

"Now that we know those things, we should be revisiting the Convention, because it wasn't written in a time when we knew that stuff."

Dr Jury said Melanie's return was a rare piece of good news for women forced overseas by the Hague Convention.

Melanie returned to New Zealand in April, and she said her daughter was back in school with her old friends.

"I think she's attended four birthday parties this year for her friends, just since we've been back this term," she said.

"She's been on playdates on weekends, and we're looking into extracurricular stuff.

"But it might seem like she's this happy kid again, but she's still got to go into psychological care and counselling."

Melanie said she was now seeking work, and that their lives were finally returning to what they should be.

A woman holds hands with her child.