My Family Court Experience
I thought I would just tell ever so briefly my story to add to the file.
I was employed in the government power generation industry and was able to provide for my wife and family without too much hardship.
When my older kids went to polytech and university, I was made redundant and my career had to be re- identified.
When I got married I promised my wife I would support her return to university to finish her degree when for her the time was right. It was at this stage she felt the time was right and she organised to buy another house in Dunedin for accommodation for her and my remaining daughter to allow them to finish their studies in the city. I was left in the family home in Omarama to work back into the power industry as a contractor and to continue providing for my family studying in Dunedin. It was one huge commitment to live alone for three years but I felt it was worth it. It was seen by me as three years investment in my family. I was working in a job I was not trained for but I persevered to be effective because it was only for three years until my wife got her degree and I could then do something for me.
I worked 9hr days, 6 day weeks for two and half years and lived on $80 a week because the rest of the money went towards the house, my wife and daughter in Dunedin.
Towards the end of those first two years, my wife when on route to Christchurch to do some training called in and showed me a letter of separation which she and a girlfriend had compiled to submit to the school to get an increased student allowance. The shock of seeing that letter really affected me but I promised myself I would not get upset until I was confronted with evidence that the letter had actually been submitted. I told my wife we did not need to get money by fraud even though by all accounts everybody else was. I had seen the bank manager and we were good for any short term advance. I told my wife this when she visited again on her return to Dunedin. Again I did not expect her to submit that letter. There was a huge communication strain between my wife and me but I thought it was all par for the course. I was coping therefore I thought she was coping.
The mere fact that I had seen such a letter in writing destroyed me emotionally. I had no-one to turn to. I wrote to my parents in law who had given their daughter $20,000 to be added to our $20,000 to make the $40,000 deposit on the Dunedin house and with whom I was on good terms. I asked if they could help us communicate and to my shock they refused. They said they did not want to be involved. As far as I was concerned they were involved to the tune of $20,000 which had made it easier for my wife to move out. Anyway, their refusal to help put a huge emotional strain on me and I did not tell them of the letter of separation.
Anyway to cut a long story short she did submit that letter but I was not important enough to be advised. At the end of the school year because the school had accepted she was separated, WINZ gave her the DPB again without any reference to me. I was not aware that she had submitted that letter let alone getting extra financial support from elsewhere. I thought I was the sole provider and was proud of that.
I believe that in submitting that letter my wife had overcome a huge hurdle. And that hurdle basically said that it was ok to move on. And the government was paying for it. The school thought she was separated because they had not checked up to think otherwise and they gave her free counseling as a separated woman.
During the third and last year of training, I was put under pressure at work and also when my youngest daughter left the Dunedin home in her School Cert year because she was not coping. She basically ran away to live with her boyfriend and we had to accept that. She ended up in Australia but that’s another story in itself. Anyway I took time off from work to work through the issues that I was being confronted with. I went to Dunedin to talk to my wife about getting help for us and she told me she wanted a separation. I said to her that what you mean is a divorce because I felt we had been separated for two years if not three.
That was the beginning of the end. I did not want a separation and I did not want a divorce but I had hit fifty and felt I had to accept the inevitable. She said we had grown apart and we had but I also thought we had a commitment to see those three years through – apparently not. I went to a lawyer about a work issue and while there I asked what does separation mean. She said to me that did I want to go for matrimonial properties settlement but I said, ‘hang on I just want to know what it means’. She said did I want access to the Family Court system and counseling and I quickly said yes.
Meeting with that woman lawyer and accepting the help from the Family Court system was the worst thing I could ever have done. I desperately wanted my wife and I to talk.
We were put in touch with Relationship Services and because my wife was in Dunedin and I was in Omarama I thought that having individual counseling initially to be followed up by collective counseling after all the facts had been collected would be ok. My wife saw her counselor in Dunedin and I saw my woman counselor in Oamaru. I spent 4 hours at home compiling a dossier on our back grounds to help the counselor to understand our situation and was explaining this when my counselor said that we have to finish now because there was a client waiting. This blew me away. I was a screwed up mess and it was all over.
Anyway I had reason to go to Dunedin and I went to Dunedin and saw my wife. I asked her had she seen her counselor and she said yes. She also said that she had asked that there be no more counseling until after the exams. I had already accepted this. On my way back home I called into Relationship Services and asked if they had received my wife counseling report. The answer was yes and I asked if I could discuss it and I was told no. I would have to wait until my counselor returned from sick leave.
Six weeks from my first counseling session I was invited to my second with a new counselor because the original counselor was no longer available. I believed I would hear the results of my wifes session in Dunedin some weeks before. This counselor knew nothing of my case and I spent the session repeating myself from the first. Needless to say I never saw her again. In actual fact I was ropeable.
Even though we were messed up I loved my wife and family and knew that with the right support we had potential. Unfortunately my wife was way down the escape route to the exit. It was only her conscience she had to deal with and the counseling she had been and was receiving was more than helping with that. By this time I had lost my job and got another one and my wife had graduated.
I was invited to a mutual counseling session in Dunedin with her counselor after I had agreed for the house to be sold and the $20,000 returned to her parents. I went to the counseling session where the counselor apologised to me for not posting a letter my wife had compiled the week before saying that the counseling was for us going our different ways. If I had known the intent I would not have allowed the house to be sold or the money to be returned at that time. I was emotionally stuffed. I honestly do not know how I survived. I would return home to the empty family home in Omarama and it was hell.
I wrote to the Oamaru Court registrar asking for counseling to get over the first and it was granted.
There is so much I have left out but the story goes on and on.
It was at this time I went to the bank to arrange a loan because all our funds were frozen and as far as I knew I was broke. I was shocked when the account manager produced a statement with over $50,000 in it — it was the mortgage money from the house sale and the bank had forgotten to remove it. It had been in my account for a week and because I did not expect it I had not noticed it. Needless to say it was removed immediately. If I had realised it was there I would have moved it to somewhere else and then maybe my wife would have talked to me.
The following year I felt I could not cope with what was happening to me and decided to go for a divorce. As I said I love my wife as I do today but could not cope. I was obviously not included in the family group so I decided to move on. I applied for a divorce as it was two years from the time my wife had submitted that letter of separation. I did not want a separation let alone a divorce but if one partner is not wanted what does one do.
I was blown away when my wife objected. She objected, not on emotional grounds but on material grounds saying that she would be liable for some back mortgage payments. This is what she said in her affidavit and also in her affidavit admitted to benefit fraud. This was with her lawyers support. I could not cope with this. I went to court for a divorce and it got turned round to a matrimonial properties settlement. I went to court without a lawyer, not wanting a lawyer but my lawyer turned up and I just kept quiet. Basically I wanted to protect my wife. I could not understand how my wife could admit to benefit fraud in front of a Family Court judge and not be held accountable.
I was not going to get her into any more trouble than what I thought she was already in but stupidly she was not in any trouble — it was me for delaying proceedings on a matrimonial properties settlement. How could this be because the separation date was obviously in question.
I just could not cope with all this and gave up. I could not attend the last court hearing because I was training contractors at Manapouri power station and I was literally up the creek without a paddle. For some stupid reason I felt loyalty to my employer. I thought there was no point me going because I had hired another lawyer to arrange an already decided settlement. In the settlement I was penalized at the rate of $100 a week for as long as it took to get the insurance policies changed over. When I went to deal with these policies I found the one in question was not even mine — it was owned by my wife and I was being penalized for it. In actual fact if I had killed myself she gained $30,000.
As I indicated at the beginning, I believed we had a good family and the potential for a continuing family. It was a huge shock to find not only my in-laws against me but to find the government agencies also supporting my wife every step of the way, was just too much.
My experience with the Family Court was diabolical as was my first experience with lawyers. I remember seeing a student allowance form and it had provision for the spouses signature. Obviously this was ignored by the school as well.
Honestly, I gave up. I have had correspondence with Peter Boshier and he has promised to tidy the show up but that is what it is — just a big show. The whole thing is a big game.
I still feel for my ex-wife as I did when we got married and I love my kids very much. They have all done well as has my ex-wife but I still experience a huge difficulty in my life every day because nobody has had to explain to me why it had to be this way. I can feel some pride in the fact that their success is also mine but that is not much consolation. I feel no appreciation for my ex-wifes success even though I provided for her and supported her throughout her degree.
Because I was not prepared to point the finger at her I was walked all over even when her own written evidence in the form of a sworn affidavit admitted to a criminal offence — I just could not cope with that. And they call it the Family Court. My experience indicated it was not for families and the justice part was also questionable.
All I ever wanted was an opportunity to talk and not to point the finger and not in front of a judge but it was not to be. We got divorced in 2000 when my wife just lifted her objection two years later.
Anyway, thanks for listening.