The family of a young girl at the centre of an international custody battle will not be deported from New Zealand, despite her mother getting visas by falsely telling immigration officials she had custody of her daughter.
For two years, the girl’s father – who hails from Europe and had sole custody in their homeland – had no idea where his daughter was living until a social media campaign to find her went viral online.
Someone recognised the child in New Zealand where the mother had started a new life, so the father asked the Family Court to return the girl to his home country under the international child abduction agreement, the Hague Convention.
The Weekend Herald revealed in October the Family Court – despite accepting the mother unlawfully took the girl and concealed her – refused as she was now settled in New Zealand.
Returning the girl to her father would be an “intolerable situation” and “cataclysmic” for her, ruled Judge Stephen Coyle, and she now considered herself a Kiwi.
His decision, which has since been appealed to the High Court, was made even though Immigration New Zealand wanted to deport the mother and daughter.
Now, the deportation notice has been successfully appealed to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal which granted the pair temporary six month visas.
Deportation would have been “unduly harsh” and unjust, ruled the Tribunal, despite the mother concealing relevant information to obtain a visa and illegally removing the girl from her home country.
This was because, if the girl and her mother was deported, the girl would have to live with her father in their home country and likely suffer emotional “trauma” as she had barely seen him in the past five years.
“If the family can stay in New Zealand at this stage, this will at least maintain the daughter in her current family life, which the Family Court has held to be in her best interests,” according to the written decision of the Tribunal.
“The issue of contact with her father and the associated emotional turmoil can no longer be avoided, but, if the daughter is in New Zealand, it will be for the Family Court to determine if and how the contact will take place.
“The Family Court can also monitor the actions of both parents and there is the opportunity for a new start in a more neutral environment…maintaining stability in her home, school and community life at this time offers.”
The Immigration and Protection Tribunal gives new details about the custody dispute including the use a “child recovery team”, often called a “snatch squad”, to take the girl from her New Zealand school.
While accepting that the mother had actively thwarted any role the father might have in his daughter’s life, the Family Court relied on a psychologist’s report which said the girl had a traumatic childhood memory of her father.
“The details of the incident are contested as to who was the aggressor but it seems that the outcome was that the father had his foot run over,” the tribunal wrote.
This psychological report was criticised by the father’s legal team as he was not interviewed, or allowed to meet his daughter under observation before the report was written.
Following the Family Court decision, the father took his daughter from her New Zealand school with the help of a “child recovery team” of private investigators.
The girl was later returned by police after the Family Court granted urgent interim orders to stop the father from having contact with the girl.
This was an “abduction”, according to the mother’s submissions to the Immigration Protection Tribunal, which had created “extraordinary stress and fear”.
In response, the father told the Weekend Herald that taking his daughter from school was legal and he checked with police beforehand.
The police declined to comment on privacy grounds.
But the father said he took the extraordinary step to use a child recovery team to re-establish contact with his daughter whom he hadn’t seen in nearly 5 years.
Their meeting was recorded and the video and photographs will be given in evidence at the appeal to the High Court.
Regardless of whether the appeal is successful, the father said he is also willing to move to New Zealand and share custody of his daughter.
This is despite the courts in his country awarding sole custody to him after the mother repeatedly refused to let him see their daughter.
“The ingrained resentment the mother holds against the father, now significantly impairs the mother’s ability to raise her daughter…with her actions, the mother wilfully and significantly disregards the interests of her daughter,” the European court judgment said.
In awarding custody to the father, Judge Coyle said the overseas courts ruled he was not a safety risk to his daughter.
The Appeal Court in the country also found the mother had an “ongoing lack of willingness” to let the father be a meaningful parent.
“Certainly her actions in removing [the girl] from … and hiding from him…mean that he has had no ability to be involved in her life,” said Judge Coyle.
The mother told the Immigration and Protection Tribunal that the father’s ongoing legal proceedings were “vexatious” and “relentless harassment” which made their lives “unbearable”.
There were five access arrangements approved by the courts in their homeland between 2010 and 2014, “none of which were fully adhered to by the mother” said the Tribunal.
The mother then secretly left the country and came to start a new life in New Zealand with their daughter.
“Needless to say, the mother has a litany of complaints about her daughter’s father including his being manipulative and controlling, his constant monitoring of her, his defamation of her and his abuse and threats,” said the Tribunal.
“These allegations did not prevent the award of custody to the father by the [European] courts.”
Given the length of time without contact with her father, the Tribunal said the daughter’s emotions may now be aligned with those of her mother.
“It is of course sad if a child spends much of her childhood subjectively in fear of her father if there is no objective basis for those fears, or those subjective fears or trauma could be addressed and potentially overcome.”
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