I am not first to tell this story. In all honesty, I have written and rewritten in my head many times. However, publicly I have avoided the subject and I have hidden from the conversation. Like the “Footprints in the Sand” poem, I have needed others to carry me in this effort.
I don’t want to be here, but I am.
The only reason I am speaking is because I don’t want anyone else to stumble into this horrific situation.
For the past five years, I’ve been silent, publicly, about the anguishing experience of my divorce and my children’s retention in New Zealand. I couldn’t believe the deception. I couldn’t believe my ignorance. The notion that anyone’s wife would have an affair then plan not only a divorce, but to separate their children by using international borders, and hide behind the family court of another country, is the stuff of TV drama…not the real world. Initially, I was shocked…I was stunned. I didn’t understand.
How could this have happened? Our first Christmas overseas, we met my family in Hawaii. My family says that my then-wife was detached from the festivities. I missed it, totally. In hindsight, I still wonder, how do you see something when you have no frame of reference? I was raised to believe in love and the sanctity of marriage. Less than two days from our return from Hawaii and exactly six months after our move to New Zealand my family would disintegrate.
After that Christmas holiday 2010, she moved out. I wanted to believe in us…I wanted to believe that we were stronger… stronger than we were. I pleaded that we try to work things out. She said there was nothing to discuss. I pleaded for counseling. She refused until the courts required it. Then she walked into the first counseling session and said: “There is nothing to discuss”.
In January of 2011, before we had even started counseling she requested and received a without-notice travel restriction on the children. The children have not been allowed to leave New Zealand since.
I filed for divorce in the USA, she filed in New Zealand. Both courts took jurisdiction. New Zealand took jurisdiction because the children were in New Zealand. And, for those of you wondering, yes, ANY child in New Zealand is under the jurisdiction of New Zealand, whether visiting on vacation, living there temporarily or as permanent residents. The United States also claimed jurisdiction because our family was only in New Zealand temporarily and I never changed my domicile from the US.
To the courts and friends, my ex-wife implied I was abusive and a poor father. It was proven a false charge. The US judge ruling in our case stated it was clear that my wife would prefer that I just sail off and leave her and the kids forever. We count on the judicial system of any first-world nation to account for and correct those actions…this is where everything went wrong.
While the US courts ruled in my favor, requesting the children be returned to the United States, the New Zealand Courts stated that the United States decisions were nonbinding and ignored the United States decisions. This stunned the US State Department who thought all we needed to do was register the United States Order of divorce in New Zealand. When we attempted to register the US Order in New Zealand, it was rejected because the New Zealand government asserts that it does not have to register orders from any other country except Australia.
Given New Zealand’s position, I was forced to file a request for repatriation in the New Zealand Family Court. After protracted hearings, the New Zealand court ruled that the children should be returned to the United States, but my ex appealed that decision to the High Court. After another year of court hearings, submissions, and testimony, the NZ High Court issued their reserved judgement…to summarize:
I appealed the High Court decision claiming that it was discriminatory. The NZ Court of Appeals rejected the application stating that rights of appeal are specifically barred for my case. Then in a very uncommon action, they post-scripted their decision, with a note stating that the New Zealand Court of Appeals thought it was “unfair” that I do not have a right of appeal and asked Parliament to consider changing the law that prevented me from appealing. The details behind these events led to me file a United Nations Human right complaint this year.
I feel the children are being held hostage in New Zealand…To me, this is nationally-sanctioned incarceration. It amazes me, still, that a first-world country like New Zealand can deny free access of American citizens. They prevented my American children from returning to America. Both parents are American. Both extended families are American and live in America. The only person wanting to remain in New Zealand is their mother. Crazy, right? Not so in the eyes of the NZ Family Court.
I thought that maybe my situation was unique, until I started hearing about other stories in New Zealand and beyond. Around the world children are being detained, without a release date, because of domestic disputes between divorcing couples and arguing families.
So, I’ve kept silent until now. I’ve not told anyone outside my inner circle about this daily tragedy and how I’m trying to cope. There have been so many times I wanted to say something, but where and how do I start? How do I adequately convey that every time you travel you put your children at risk?
I can tell you horror story after horror story about my bitter divorce, but it is not about my-ex, her boyfriend, or their behavior. It is about two little children and how a court of law has failed them, their welfare, and their best interest.
A good friend once told me that when you hide your problems from your friends you deny friends the opportunity to be your friend. So, I am finally telling you. If you have any questions or concerns, please message me. There are things that everyone should know and understand about traveling internationally, with your children. This includes the role of your Embassy, the State Department, your representatives, and your rights. It will change you and your considerations about traveling or living outside your country of origin, particularly if you are an American citizen.
As I write this, I am still residing in New Zealand because I refuse to leave my children without a father and abandon the hope of returning them to America. I am repeatedly persecuted and threatened with jail sentences by the New Zealand Courts. Their strict privacy laws forbid me to mention my ex-wife’s name or our children’s names in any public platform. I feel that over the past five years this looming threat conveniently helped keep my situation more than private; until now it remained secret.
Many people have given more than I could ever ask to help me be here for my children…I am eternally thankful to those people. . And, I hope my story has been helpful to those considering travel to New Zealand or extended, temporary residence in another foreign country. If I can prevent another parent from this horror I will feel some relief, despite being half a world away from my family and watching my children grow up in a foreign country.