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Smith demands urgent inquiry into parent custody

Smith demands urgent inquiry into parent custody fiasco

Nelson MP Nick Smith is demanding an urgent inquiry into a child custody dispute in which the parents have been legally fighting for over three years to get back custody of their six-year-old son.

"I am loathe to condone people ignoring the law but having studied this case, I would probably do the same in the circumstances. The system has totally failed this family. This case almost amounts to state sanctioned child stealing. It will be a travesty of justice if the Police, under the authority of the Courts, rip this boy from his mother, father, brothers and sister.

"I have decided to go public and demand an urgent inquiry after the parents advised me this weekend that they would not be returning their son to the cousin contesting custody after their most recent brief period of access. Parents should not have to fight for custody of their own children.

"The family has previously written to the Prime Minister, Minister of Courts, Justice, Maori Affairs and the Chief Family Court Judge to no avail. An inquiry is needed into why parents that have never been questioned over the care of their other three children cannot also look after their fourth child and why the Courts have taken so long to hear their custody case.

"This case is extreme but it highlights the human cost of the huge delays in the Family Court as identified in the just released Law Commission report. The report criticised the lack of resources, long delays, shortage of report writers and the lack of assistance from the Department of Child, Youth and Family.

"The case also identifies inadequacies in the current law. Most parents would be horrified to learn that there is no presumption in favour of parents as the custodial carers but rather this loose notion of what is in the "best interests of the child". Common sense says a child's best interests are being with its father, mother and siblings unless they pose a risk, but lawyers and psychologists manage to make it far more complicated. The Guardianship Act is also in urgent need of reform. Our laws need changing to strengthen both the rights and responsibilities of parents."

"I am also horrified by the costs this case has been to the taxpayer. The taxpayer has funded over $50,000 of legal aid to the cousin trying to keep the child, a lawyer for the child, as well as the parents' lawyer trying to gain access and custody. It also seems madness that the State has been paying a Domestic Purposes Benefit to a woman to care for a child when the parents are desperately willing and able to do so. It has added insult to injury for the parents to have been pursued by Inland Revenue for child support payments for a child they want to care for.

"This case also highlights the dangers of the Family Court being shrouded in secrecy as there can be no public scrutiny of its failings."

Dr Smith said he would be pursuing the matter of the delays in Family Court proceedings further in Parliament this week.

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