I thought it would be an easy day. However, that all changed when I answered the telephone. On the other end of the line, The Salvation Army employee was beseeching me to talk to a woman who was sitting in her office. When she handed the phone to the woman to speak to me, it all poured out. She was living in crisis accommodation with her son as a result of losing her mother some months earlier to cancer; she had spiralled into depression and was now at the end of her tether. Not knowing what to do she sought refuge at The Salvation Army. Between the howling tears, she told me that her ex-partner had taken their son, for whom she had custody, and vowed not to return him. She had gone to Legal Aid, she had sought the assistance of other legal practices and now, with no money to pay for a lawyer, she came asking Salvos Legal to prepare a recovery application for her. The difficulty I had was that I already had a more urgent commitment and so, with great sadness, I provided her with limited advice and promised her that when, upon my return, she still needed legal assistance, I would assist her.
Approximately one month later, I received another call and Dianne proceeded to tell me that she did have the recovery application prepared. However, she needed someone to represent her in Court. As I had promised, I agreed to assist her. When I finally met Dianne, I was impressed with her degree of preparedness. Throughout her transient accommodations and subsequent illness, her son remained at the same school, rarely missed classes and remained with his circle of friends. Since the removal by his father, Dianne had received letters from her son’s new school that he had missed the first 16 days of the new term. She was determined to have her son back with her.
On the first Court date, we presented our case and much to Dianne’s disappointment, the Court ordered that the son remain with the father until pending both parents and the child meet with a Family Consultant for the purposes of determining what would be in the best interest of the child. Dianne was so sure that her son would be returned to her care and it was clear to me that her not seeing him for 62 days was painful and heartbreaking. I assured her that it was better for the Court to make one decision rather than two. Following the outcome of the report from the Family Consultant, the Court would be better able to make that determination. The upshot of this hearing was that Dianne was given immediate access to the child by being able to spend every weekend with her son for the next three weekends leading up to the next hearing.
The parents and the son met with the Family Consultant and following that meeting the respective lawyers also met with the Family Consultant. I came away with a good feeling.
Later the same day, the matter was heard before the same Judge, and on this occasion, with more time to prepare, we presented a clearer picture of what we believed would be in the best interest of the child. Dianne was sworn in under oath and spoke eloquently and passionately.
After the Family Consultant presented her report, the Court ordered that the child be returned immediately to the mother. The father was allowed to spend 30 minutes with the son after the hearing, however, within 10 minutes the son stated he wanted to “go home with mum.” Dianne was again in tears; this time they were tears of joy. I watched from a distance as mother and child enjoyed a playful moment. Dianne’s son was so delighted to be with his mother, he wore a huge smile and soon after settled in on the floor to play with the toys Dianne had brought him.
Dianne’s son is back with her. They have permanent housing and the son is back at his old school spending time with his friends again. Dianne’s son spends time with the father on a regular basis over the school holidays and this arrangement seems to be working. I call Dianne approximately once each fortnight to make sure things are still going well.
The saga for Dianne and her son will be ongoing. For now however, the role we have played to assist her was worthwhile and helped present to the Court the evidence needed for the Court to decide what was in the child’s best interests.
We will continue to support Dianne into the future, both in a legal sense and in other areas of her life, to ensure that she is able to be the best parent she can be.