How to get full custody

How I got full custody, a 5 year protection order and he has no access

Before I even start, let me be clear about full custody and my views. Unless there is abuse or extreme circumstances, I do believe it is in the best interests of the children to have both parents. It doesn’t matter how much you dislike each other, that needs to be put aside for the sake of the kids and a relationship with them. I don’t mean stay together, I mean children deserve to have a relationship with both parents.

This includes not putting the other parent down, not restricting access or playing petty games to get control or annoy one another. Your children are half of each of you and deserve to feel they are special, important and not be made to feel half of them is awful because you can’t get along with their other parent.

How to get full custody is a loaded topic. Generally, I recommend trying to work it out without court and lawyers. Once you get into court, it is expensive, emotionally draining, time-consuming and hideously expensive. In my case, court was unavoidable, however, the law and police repeatedly failed us during the process despite ample evidence. When it finally got to trial everyone was horrified we were even there due to the external evidence, as in evidence from others, not just what I said. I should have been granted full custody from the beginning.

What is in this post?

I’m going to give you background on my case, my experience in 3 different states, tips for court, how I got full custody and my personal views. This is not a “how to game the system” guide and not guaranteed. Me getting full custody and everything I outline here will not mean you do. But if yours is a case where the other parent is abusive or something, it could help. Also, it shows you are not alone and full custody (also known as sole parental responsibility) is possible.

My In-Laws

Before I get into it, I want to make it clear we now have a great relationship with my husbands family and I am so grateful for that. My daughters have had sleepovers this year, text their cousins, Facetime them etc. His oldest sister reached out earlier this year and has been absolutely amazing. We were all nervous when we met up in person in Sydney but it was so good. They have all treated me exactly as family, my daughters are ecstatic and we will go up to Sydney at least 2 more times this year. And his whole family are conscious of the protection order, ensuring he does not breach it and that my daughters feel safe and supported. We are extremely fortunate to have them in our lives again and for their support.

While there is no contact with my ex-husband, should my daughters want to, they can. They have made it extremely clear they do not want this but do want to be close to their Polynesian side, including attending a family reunion in Tonga next year.

So in short, we love that side of the family and will continue to develop and maintain strong ties there.

Some of the extended family. My kids look so much like their cousins! Mele is in the red GAP top and Halia in the black and blue SURF jumper. 

My Case Background

I was married in 2005, it was abusive and I left 2012 with our daughters. He still had some contact until 2014. I won’t go into details too much as it is not my story to tell. Despite sharing elements of my life, this involves my kids and it is their choice when they are older what they share.

When I left, a protection order was put in place due to the circumstances. In 2013, the divorce was finalised, I moved to Canberra and during this time I was legally advised not to apply for custody as the court would grant 50/50.

In 2015, we had the opportunity to travel and I tried to get him to sign passports, he refused. It was going to go to court but I became paralysed and extremely sick. At the end of that year, my daughters and I moved to Melbourne. Here, they had the opportunity to go to China with their school in 2017. Again, I tried to do the passports. This time he agreed (I had a recorded phone call of this). However, he didn’t sign and we had to go to court, which meant I also had to go for full custody. It took almost 2 years from then until now to get custody. Over 12 months of that was simply waiting for a court date!

Evidence Against Him

2014, my daughters came back to me and never wanted to see him again. Without sharing much, there is evidence, police reports, child protection reports, statements and reports filed by teachers, psychologists, witnesses and others in NSW, ACT and VIC. As well as the assaults against me. The file is huge and continued to grow in the 7.5 years between me leaving and me being granted custody. This is evidence NOT created or supplied by me. It was subpoenaed by the court when we got pushed to the higher court.

I had to have a full psychiatric assessment from a specific psychiatrist, which was expensive. It’s not a regular psychiatrist and not a simple process. However, all he had to throw against me was claims against my mental health. Which through this process, showed my prior mental health issues were mainly due to being in an abusive relationship.

Other Factors

At the end of 2017, my eldest daughter was diagnosed with ASD Level 1, anxiety and a few other issues to watch for. This is also known as high functioning autism or Aspergers. This does impact how child custody and visitation is awarded due to the special needs of children with autism.

Last year, my ex caused issues again and I had to go to court for a protection order. An interim one was granted then in April, a full 5 year protection order even barring him from posting on social media about us at all, was granted. This helped significantly as it showed a long history of abuse, so no chance he would be ok with the kids.

Lastly, in the final stages of court, his lawyer ceased to act for him. He never came to court throughout the whole process and on the first hearing this year, the judge saw what he is like. It was complicated, messy and thankfully, the judge set a date for a quick trial because of his behaviour. He was court-ordered to attend with legal counsel and we had it included that I could proceed uncontested if he was not there. This is what happened and on the final day, instead of there being a 6 day trial which they initially though, it took 2 hours.

My Top Tips To Get Full Custody

As you can see from my experience, it took years. I had a legal help the whole way which cost me a fortune and there was extensive evidence of abuse. Remaining calm, keeping it together, continuing to work and parent my children was extremely difficult during this process. But I did it. And would do it all again if I had to.

1. Mindset is everything – have a happy place

Don’t roll your eyes, this was one of the biggest determining factors enabling me to remain calm and focused. If you are hysterical, irrational and all over the place, it isn’t great for you in court. Yes, emotions are normal, hysteria is not. When our emotions take control, we can make poor decisions, it is harder to remember things and you need to remember for court.

I didn’t implement this fully until December 2018, after my best trip ever. After going to the Solomons, with Solomon Island Discovery Cruises, I desperately wanted to take my kids and had a very specific image of Mane Bay in my head. I could see my kids playing in the water as I watched them from the dive deck. That moment, that experience, to me is the moment we are free.

Last month, we were meant to go but as the judge hasn’t finalised the paperwork, my daughters are not allowed out of the country. So in February, 2020, we are going and there are more spaces on the trip if you want to come! Email us here.

Whenever I got overwhelmed about court, I began to picture this spot, this experience and my whole body relaxed. It was so real to me and will be soon.

2. Have Support

My family is incredible. There were numerous times I rang family members in tears, or furious at what was happening. I borrowed money from my parents as needed, my sister dropped everything and flew down one night when I was not coping and I know I am fully supported.

Not everyone has that but there are support networks. Charities have support workers to help you in court and with paperwork before court. I also had a private psychologist I started seeing to prepare me for court, have somewhere safe to vent to and also to help with parenting and understanding autism.

Join a support network, get professional support, create a community.

3. Have evidence

I have written about 5 tips to win in court previously and included the importance of evidence. Write down everything including the time, date, location, what happened. Get witnesses where possible. Report things to the relevant departments, have teachers and other people in positions of power who are involved to write reports. Do everything via email to ensure you have a paper trail and if you have to do phone calls, request they be recorded then at the start of the recorded say “This phone call is being recorded” to show they agreed.

Do not fabricate evidence or embellish things. Numerous people involved with my case commented on the fact my records of what happened and when corresponded perfectly with evidence from police, schools, child protection etc. Having my own proof and the ability to show exact dates, recorded phone calls, text messages etc all added to my credibility.

4. Dress to impress

Again, I wrote about this in the previous article. How you appear matters. Dress in blue where possible because it subconsciously indicates trust. Corporate or business attire is preferred, along with neat hair, nails and makeup. I look like a lawyer when I go to court and this has helped significantly and been commented on by others. If you want the law on your side, do the right thing, have your evidence and dress the part.

Charities offer help with this, borrow from friends or family if necessary and do your best to dress accordingly.

5. Be willing to compromise

There are a few things in my court orders I didn’t want but they aren’t awful. However, by being willing to compromise, it increased my chances of getting full custody.

6. Show you are doing what is in the best interests of the children

Years of speech therapy, psychology, play therapy, extra-curricular sports, the autism diagnoses and treatment for that were all documented and used in court. These, combined with the evidence we were in contact with his family and I was willing to continue to facilitate that added weight to this part of our case. In fact, as it turned out, between the first hearing this year and the final trial, we had a trip to Sydney planned so we saw the family. This was mentioned in my court papers and when we went back for the trial, it helped to solidify the fact I will continue this relationship and contact for my daughters.

The fact I had driven to Sydney, then instead of just letting the kids play awhile, allowed 2 sleepovers was huge. It showed I put my own feelings and fears of my ex aside for my kids. And they course had an amazing time with their cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents on that side. This was not a stunt I pulled for court, we will continue to see them all. It did happen to help though.

7. Get legal help

I don’t want to reveal the entire total of my court costs but they essential equal a house. This year I paid tens of thousands within a few months and he didn’t have to pay a thing this year. Be prepared to sell everything, do any job and work your butt off to pay.

For some reason, when I started this process in Melbourne, I didn’t have to put money into trust. I had when I needed legal help in Sydney and Canberra but here we expected it to be a quick process with the evidence so my lawyer didn’t request it. Instead of having my money sit there, I was able to pay the invoices as they sent them. My barristers continued this arrangement when they were hired to help as well.

I was extremely lucky with this. When my lawyer went on maternity leave and another took over he said he had never seen this arrangement but since I never missed an invoice he was happy to continue it. Don’t expect to be so lucky. Be prepared to have to put down thousands. You can save a little if you self-represent and the court is usually helpful if you choose to do it that way. My case had been so long and messed up I wasn’t willing to self-represent.

Final Thoughts

You know what is best for your kids and if you have left an abusive relationship, it will be hard but it is worth it. This nearly broke me, completely. My ex-husband used things I wrote or said online against me (well, tried to) which made me shrink completely and question everything I was doing.

When he played mind and control games, it messed with my head. Hearing things from my daughters, seeing the impact on them and the amount of money it cost us wore me down. However, I held onto the hope we would be free. I kept the image in my mind of us at Mane Bay and eventually, we won. We are still waiting for the judge to finalise to upload the paperwork so they can leave the country for the first time but right now, we are free.

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