I had been through divorce, redundancy, a near-death illness but nothing prepared me for losing my son to another mum.
Last year my 17yr old son left home in the middle of the night! I was devastated. He was in his final year of high school with just a few months left when after he had broken the house rules…again…I uttered the words “while you live under my roof…”. I never dreamt that disciplining my own son would see him moving in with his 16yr old girlfriend, her mother and younger siblings…next door!
From that point on we lurched from one drama to the next. The police knocked on our front door the following week & I was accused of family violence? I had to hand over my son’s passport and birth certificate. The big burly Samoan policeman was great – his advice? “Change the locks on the front door, and teach the little bugger a lesson”. We learnt that night that at 15yrs old a child can leave home – and the law is in their camp.
My son stopped attending school on a regular basis, he had his end of year exams coming up and I was concerned he would fail them. I contacted the school, and they offered to seek him out & speak with him. But he was 17yrs old and in New Zealand a child can leave school at 16yrs old and the parents have no say, and neither does the school!
It was October, 3 months later, when I received a phone call from the Inland Revenue Department to tell me that I had to pay child support. To the girlfriend’s mother! Yes, that’s right. Until a child is 19yrs old the parents are financially responsible and since my son was at school and not working, and had chosen to run off to live with his girlfriend I had to pay!! Inland Revenue had processed an application for child support. It had a copy of my son’s birth certificate attached. 25% of my nett weekly income was due and would need to be paid to this woman until my son turned 19yrs old – the following year in October, some 12 months away.
So let’s think about this….a child can leave home at 15yrs old, have sex, & leave school at 16yrs old, get married and vote at 18yrs old, all without parental consent…but a parent is held financially liable for them until they are 19yrs old!
You might be thinking I was a terrible mum? I was pretty shocking to be honest. I worked full time to pay the rent & the bills. I picked him up & dropped him off at his sporting events, stood on the sideline at football games every weekend since he was 4yrs old! I still packed his school lunch, and made him a hot breakfast most school days. His mates had Christmas with us, and stayed over often for home cooked meals and my baking. He had all the gadgets. He didn’t have to share a room or a bathroom. His two older siblings were on his side, proud of his football achievements and encouraging of him. My parents said it was my fault – I had ‘spoilt’ him.
So why would he want to leave home you are asking yourself? The woman next door said he could have sex with her daughter! He could stay home rather than go to school. Stay up as late as he wanted, drink beer ‘til he puked, and be ‘his own man’! No chores, no accountability to anyone or anything! How could any mum compete with this?
Child, Youth & Family met with my son after he applied for a benefit. If you didn’t know in New Zealand we pay children to live away from their families if they are under 18yrs old. It’s called an ‘Independent Youth’ allowance. An outsourced & independent counsellor met with my son, had a chat with him, and then with me. She concluded that there was no good reason for him not to be at home, and her recommendation was he be declined for a benefit. “He should go home”.
I sought advice from my Member of Parliament, who said this was becoming an increasing trend. Someone very senior at Inland Revenue said to take this to the Family court – “we need to set a precedence”. They told me how. So that’s what I did. Appealed. And took a case against the IRD and the woman next door who by now is known as my son’s legal guardian and has all the rights of his parent.
Many, many hours of research, of writing affidavits, gathering evidence to present in court and filing the documents in family court – only single copies accepted and by 4.30pm! It was time consuming and at the same heart-breaking as my child was estranged from me and his whole family.
This week after nearly 10months of fighting this through all the ‘right’ channels I have withdrawn my appeal. Two days before the court hearing Inland Revenue finally communicated with me and their statement said they would uphold the law! After all that’s all they have been doing in applying a law written for biological parents. There would be no other interpretation of this law – one law does fit all situations it seems! No-one from Inland Revenue has been in touch. No surprise really, they have been a faceless government department all this time.
I really wanted to take this all the way and set that precedence so that the next mum whose teenage son runs off with his testosterone running rampant though his body won’t feel the hurt and pain I have. But it’s proven too hard to fight the battle against a system that doesn’t care about people. A system that works on processing application forms. A system that was designed to collect money for the government in the form of taxes.
To not have any checks in place for those application forms? To not consider anything other than ‘is the form completed properly’ is moronic. Government departments that don’t talk to each other and politicians who won’t step up and take ownership of those departments? Decisions affecting real people’s lives are being made by people who are working in a broken system. And it’s a disgrace.
There’s someone in this story I haven’t spoken of in much detail. That is the girlfriends mother. A single woman with 3 children from 2 marriages. A woman who has never worked a single day since she immigrated from the UK over 10 years ago. A woman who has alienated her daughters from their fathers, and is systematically alienating her 3yr old son from his dad as well. A dad who had been in family court since Feb 2013 trying to get reasonable custody and access to his children. Over $300,000 in legal bills, not to mention the child support he has willingly paid to his ex wife. A woman who has received and continues to receive Legal Aid to fight her husbands right to be a father to his children. A woman who has defrauded insurance companies, and is illegally renting out a section of the family home with the city council’s knowledge, and therefore approval. A woman who doesn’t have to register her dog like the rest of us, and who has knowingly given minors alcohol. This is the woman who manipulated my child with promises of the world, and until he turned 19 last month was deemed fit to be his legal mum thanks to Inland Revenue.
I realise I am still angry, and I know it’s not healthy. My son has made contact with his family after months of silence. He failed his last year of high school. He broke up with the girl, and got asked to leave the house. He is renting a room, and is working two part-time jobs to support himself. Our relationship is not the same. It has taken a huge hit. He is not the same young boy & has been very low himself. First love lost. I trust he has learnt some life lessons over his decision’s taken. Consequences I know are important learning opportunities – and I tell myself it could be worse. In many respects I am lucky to have the chance to rebuild our relationship.
Where to from here? I have to continue paying the money to the woman next door, and the 10% penalty interest to IRD, since I stopped paying while appealing the decision. At least the bill has stopped accumulating! I have looked at going to the Human Rights Commission and still might.
The moral of this sorry saga? With children having more rights in this country than parents it is a tough job raising them. But when it is said and done, nobody has the right to take over the parenting of someone else’s child. And a government department that’s job is to collect taxes even less so. As parents we need to get on the same page and check in on each other…co-ed parties, parties with alcohol, sleep-overs…it’s okay to ring the hosting parent and introduce yourself. That’s called parenting! A wise woman once told me something I have not forgotten…”you are his mum not his best friend”. And despite everything that has gone done with my youngest child, I still believe that to be true and trust that he will realise that one day too!