An aunt who felt she was better placed to teach her niece and nephew their cultural heritage than their parents were, went to the desperate length of applying to the court to become their guardian.
The aunt, who felt there was “total disregard” by the parents as to the importance of her role in the children’s lives, wanted access to the children for a few days each year to impart her Samoan heritage to them.
But the parents didn’t want her near their children.
In the recently published Family Court decision, Judge Sarah Morrison struck out the application, calling it “ill-conceived” and appearing as the applicant being more concerned with her own desire to be recognised as an important and valued part of the children’s lives.
“Her words and actions show little to no insight into what is best for the children,” the judge said.
The aunt applied to be a guardian of the 11- and 9-year-old under a section of the Care of Children Act, that allows family members and anyone including those involved in a child’s upbringing to make an application.
The names of all family members involved in the case have been suppressed.
Counsel who acted for the children throughout a protracted family court process did not support the application, partly because of the turmoil the children had been exposed to already.
The children’s mother, who was the younger half-sister to the applicant, said the children did not have an established relationship with their aunt.
She felt they were sufficiently exposed to their Samoan culture through her influence and that of the children’s Samoan grandmother with whom they had daily contact.
The aunt claimed that the children’s father ignored her by not answering phone calls or letters and that he was “malicious” and “manipulative”, and sought a psychological assessment of what she described as his “personality disorders”.
The father did not consider it safe for the children to have contact with their aunt, citing a previous sexual assault allegation, and what he described as harassment by a series of attempted telephone calls and texts from her.
He alleged the children were distressed by an earlier visit to the aunt when she took them to a cemetery, after which contact with the children was stopped.
It prompted a warning to the father by a family member that the aunt had threatened to uplift the children from school and a safety plan was then put in place.
Judge Morrison said that any additional guardian appointed for the children needed to be able to co-operate and consult with existing guardians.
“I fail to see how [the aunt] can do this. She has a tentative relationship with [the mother]. She has a seemingly hostile relationship with [the father].”
Judge Morrison added that the aunt displayed a complete lack of respect and value for the children’s parents who were the most significant adults in their lives and who were best placed to enhance and nurture their cultural understanding, learning and values.
She said in striking out the application that allowing it to continue would expose the children to further litigation which would be an abuse of process.
Tracy Neal is a Nelson-based Open Justice reporter at NZME. She was previously RNZ’s regional reporter in Nelson-Marlborough and has covered general news, including court and local government for the Nelson Mail.