My deepest thanks to everyone who has signed my petition and supported my campaign to “Help Bring My Children Home”. I apologise that it’s been some time since we have provided you with an update.
With the Global COVID-19 Pandemic closing international borders and the Colombian judicial system shutting, there were significant delays with my appeal with the Judge ultimately dismissing the appeal in late 2021 and opting to not to follow The Hague Convention and return Benny and Lucia to Australia. I discovered the appeal hearing had occurred after the fact, without being notified by either the Court or my lawyer.
Ultimately, my only chance at appeal was lost.
As soon as international borders reopened in December 2021, I returned to Ipiales Colombia to try to rekindle my relationship with my children. This was a difficult move on many fronts, especially without any on-the-ground support network. However, after three years of not seeing my Children, I felt this was the best outcome for them, given the circumstances.
Over the past 18 months I’ve slowly been able to spend more time with my Children, and while it has been a struggle, I’m glad for the opportunity. Many, many others who experience the same situation I did never get the opportunity to be involved in their children’s lives. Sadly, many are cut off completely.
So, while this current arrangement is less than perfect, I am again part of my children’s lives and I’m forging amazing bonds with them. I’ve started my own international education business and have been creating a home and life for my children here in Colombia. It’s not ideal, but I now have the chance to be their Dad, and be part of their lives which is my number one priority.
What I have learnt since being in Colombia is that I never had a chance at having Benny and Lucia returned to Australia. This is due to my initial legal approach and the intrinsic cultural differences surrounding family values and priorities and their subsequent legal weight in determining custody. For example, in Australia, being financially responsible with a stable job and income is viewed as being able to provide a stable environment for children. However, in Colombia this has had the opposite effect with my presentation of a stable job viewed as being unable to provide the best care to my children because I’d be working and reliant on family or paid support for childcare.
Since relocating to Colombia, I’ve learnt that the (last minute) legal representation I had and the legal strategy, recommendations and tactics employed ultimately hindered my case and hurt the possibility of having my children returned home to me and my family. I believe the Lawyer took our money effectively gave me and my family false hope and used the high profile of my case and campaign to gain more business. I would have been better positioned should I had employed a different legal strategy locally in Colombia. We sourced my lawyer via the US State Department list of attorneys for Colombia. He is no longer listed. I have also learnt the Judge who heard my case, is no longer a Family Court Judge. The reasons for both I don’t know.
Through my work I have met a former Colombian Family Court Judge who was familiar with my case. He advised there is recourse to retry my case because of the errors made by the Judge and my Lawyer. However, while this is an option, emotionally I am not equipped to do this nor am I prepared to lose the current contact I have with Benny and Lucia if I were to recommence legal action. Also given the length of time that has passed, there is a minimal chance of getting a different outcome as both children are now settled here. I’ve also learnt that while a signatory, Colombia rarely follows The Hague Convention with the majority of children never returned to their habitual country of birth. Retrying my case would take precious time away from my children and cause great emotional stress – while being unlikely to yield a different result.
What I have been told is my case was flawed from the start because we argued from an Australian perspective. I would have been better served having a local lawyer involved from the outset; something the Australian authorities told me wasn’t required. In my view, a local Colombian lawyer is a necessity, as the Colombian’s see a situation like this as a typical family court battle. So, by not engaging a qualified local family law lawyer, and relying solely on the standard Australian process and recommendations, I hindered my chances of having my kids returned.
While I can’t change my own situation, I am much better positioned to help other Australians in similar circumstances. I want my experiences to have greater value and with that I am one of the founders of Advocacy Australia, a registered Australian charity founded to deliver benefits to society by advancing human rights.
Advocacy Australia provides a voice for Australian individuals and groups whose human rights have or are at risk of being compromised in the areas of health and wellbeing; social justice, as a result of serious crimes and for families like mine who are the victims of international familial child abduction. I am also the Founding Chair of the International Familial Child Abduction Advisory Committee (IFCAAC) and I’m currently developing support mechanisms for parents like me who are facing international custody disputes so they can have the vital support they need and get accurate advice about how this highly complex process works.
Currently Advocacy Australia is unfunded and we invite you to support this work and consider making a tax-deductible donation this end-of-financial year to help me help others struggling the heartbreaking loss of having their children abducted overseas by a family member.
If you are able help us in our mission to help families like mine, please make a donation here https://advocacyaustralia.org.au/support-us/appeal/