International child abduction cases spiked by nearly a quarter in the past year, when 130 children were illegally moved in or out of New Zealand. Most were Kiwi kids taken overseas.
Family lawyers say most cases involved foreign-born mothers taking children back to their home countries, which included Honduras, Israel and Malta.
About two-thirds involved a parent illegally taking a child to, or out of, Australia. In a case heard in the Family Court of Australia last month, a 9-year-old was removed from New Zealand "under considerable protests from his mother".
She had to travel to Melbourne for a court session where she produced an audio recording of threats of violence and legal paperwork to convince the court her child should be returned under the Hague Convention. The convention recognises that any custody battle should take place in the country where the child is living.
Justice Bennett launched a blistering attack on the New Zealand Family Court for not doing enough to mediate between parents.
"Historically, the central authority in New Zealand has not appeared to encourage mediation or countenance that mediation should cover anything other than conditions of return.
"My concern in this case is that, without intervention of an independent children's lawyer, the parents may not be afforded an opportunity to mediate at all."
Proposed changes to the Family Court include introducing a mediation service, reducing legal representation for children and removing a risk assessment checklist used where parental violence is alleged.
In the past six years, 616 children were illegally moved in or out of New Zealand. Bruce Laybourn campaigned for the return of his 6-year-old son Dylan after his mother took him to Turkey. He believes the increase in cases coincides with rising cross-cultural relationships.
"When you fall in love with somebody and think of having children ... see if the country they're from is a signatory to the Hague Convention," he says. "If your child goes there on holiday, you may never see them again."