Real Life

Battle abroad: I won’t let them take my son

This Kiwi mum faces losing her son to his French father in an international court case.

It was a dream start to her overseas holiday – falling in love with a dashing older man and settling with him in a French town. But a New Zealand mum is now fighting an international custody battle for her 15-month-old child, and has been labelled a kidnapper who must return her son to France.

In a Hague Convention ruling, the woman and her son are being forced to fly back to France – where’s she’s been denied a visa to live – for a court battle in which her ex partner is seeking custody of their toddler, who is still breast-feeding. Legally, the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly is unable to name the parties at the centre of the custody battle and must refer to them as Ms Davis and Mr Cooke and their son as Vincent*.

When Ms Davis met Mr Cooke during her OE in France, there was an instant attraction. He was 16 years older than her and at first she told herself she could overlook his recreational drug-taking and his job, which meant he was away from home for long periods of time. Ms Davis (27) also enjoyed the party lifestyle and would occasionally take drugs – until she fell pregnant seven months into their relationship, and became drug- and alcohol-free.

Mr Cooke’s first reaction to her pregnancy was wanting her to have an abortion, she says, but Ms Davis refused to consider it. By the time Vincent was born, he was just as besotted with his new son as she was. “There’s no denying he loved him,” Ms Davis told the Weekly from her family’s Kiwi home. But she’s speaking out to warn other women not to make the same mistakes she did.

Within months of conceiving Vincent, she realised the relationship wasn’t going to work. “It started going off while I was pregnant and he wasn’t dealing with [it]. I had really bad morning sickness and was high maintenance. I didn’t want him to go out partying and I didn’t want to be out at midnight,” she says.

The final straw came when Vincent was six months old. Mr Cooke accused her of cheating and she accused him of having pornographic pictures of his ex girlfriend on his computer. “He said, ‘Right, I’m over it. You’ve caused too much s**t – get out.’ And we were kicked out of the house. “He gave me a bag of stuff, but I needed more and I wrote him a list, but he never delivered.

“After a month I kicked in the door and grabbed blankets and a mattress. I just took stuff we needed to survive in the social housing fl at where we were living, because it had nothing.” After being denied a 10-year visa because she and Mr Cooke had separated, Ms Davis says coming back to New Zealand in October last year with her son seemed to be the only option.

“I was cleaning houses and some weeks I would earn only 25 Euros. My ex did provide nappies and jars of food, but nothing substantial,” says Ms Davis, who had to ask her family for money for the tickets home to New Zealand. She boarded the flight without telling Mr Cooke – which proved to be a mistake.

When he discovered they’d left, Mr Cooke contacted lawyers who invoked Hague Convention international law, accusing Ms Davis of kidnapping and demanding Vincent be returned for a hearing in which Mr Cooke is seeking primary custody of their child.

While she argued that Vincent could be psychologically harmed by returning him to his father, the ruling rejected her argument because the judge did not believe the situation met the required level of “grave risk”. The ruling has ordered her to return Vincent to France – at Mr Cooke’s expense – for the issue to be resolved.

But Ms Davis is distressed that the custody battle could take three months, during which time she will have to cover her living costs and pay for her lawyer at $400 an hour. “My mum’s putting another mortgage on her house. It’s gone from bad to really, really bad. My dad is sending money and my grandmother’s involved too.

“The New Zealand embassy in Paris has been amazing and they have done what they can, but the government can’t help me.” If her ex partner wins primary custody, then Ms Davis will be forced to leave Vincent and return to New Zealand as she would be an illegal overstayer. “My son is still breast-fed on demand. He’s never accepted formula. But my lawyer in France seems to think I will win custody,” she says.

“If I could do it again and if I had the money, I would have pursued custody of my child in France. If you are in a horrible situation, then you can apply to the Hague and let them know your intentions before leaving the country. “But I had no money to fight a court case. I had no roof in the end. [Coming home] seemed my only option at the time. Now I just want the whole thing to be over.”

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