I arranged to speak with Ellie on a Friday morning, at 9 am – a FaceTime call. As soon as she answered the call, she politely apologised for being in her dressing gown still. Rosy-cheeked, with tired eyes, she was having a day off work, a lazy day at home. But with a busy toddler behind her, I knew there was nothing lazy about this day.
With her little one settled and keeping busy, we started to chat. Her story began in February 2010 in Wales a typical university grad, eager to see the world, she set off for Australia. A popular destination for many twenty-somethings. This is a story that begins like many – a young, bright girl, full of life, ready to discover the world.
A Bright Future
Ellie left for Australia, taking up an offer from a guy she had met at Uni, “If you ever want to come over to Australia, let me know. You’ve got a place to stay and everything.” Off she went, and he picked her up at the airport. Ellie settled in, living with housemates and after a few years, she met Charlie.
“When I met Charlie, it was kind of this whirlwind and he was just … it was exciting. He was really nice, charming and funny, wanting to spend all his time with me. Suddenly, after only a few months, I found out I was pregnant. At that point, it all just went downhill. He had me move in with him, to a different area of town and it was further away from people that I already knew. At this point, I realised I wanted to go home. I wanted my Mum. But he started shouting at me, shouting that they were no longer my family, I didn’t need them, that he was my family now.”
Feelings of Isolation
Ellie began to feel isolated, finding life hard – far from friends and family, having to take herself to the hospital when she was ill and experiencing issues from pregnancy. She needed help, but Charlie was never around. He was always working and was drinking heavily every day. It became more and more apparent that things weren’t quite right, but at the same time, she didn’t acknowledge it. “His outbursts of rage started to get worse. But I was always thinking that it was okay – that maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I knew he smoked a lot of weed, I had an inkling that things weren’t right.”
As she explained the story, I could hear her rationalise the details from the past, knowing she had seen the signs of an abusive man – yet feeling she didn’t do enough at the time to see them for what they were.
One day, Ellie received an unexpected and unsettling email telling her that she needed to run for her life. It said, ‘He will steal from you and he will use you. He strangled the mother of his daughter. He has drug issues.’ When she asked Charlie about it, he simply denied it. He said it was just a disgruntled ex, the mother of his daughter. He told me to delete the email, but I kept it. I knew something was not right. One day we were in the park and he verbally assaulted another dog walker, I stupidly defended the other guy. Then he lost his temper and shouted at me for hours. ‘Eventually, I went to go upstairs to, pack a bag, to leave and that’s when he assaulted me. He slammed the door shut, the front door. And then, I had my back to the front door, like, facing him and he had his hands over my shoulders, holding the door shut. And I tried to open it. He grabbed me and just hurtled me to the ground. And I fell and hit my head on the bottom step in the living room and landed on my side. He just stepped over me and told me to get to my effing bed. And off he went. And I just lay there crying. My head was sore. My stomach was sore. He didn’t care that I’d hurt my stomach, that he could have hurt the baby… He just stepped over me and left me there. And then, the next morning, it was like nothing had happened.’
After the baby arrived, Charlie had no involvement, She said, ‘I’d had it in my mind, before that, that the moment Ant arrives, he’ll change. Things will get better. That when Ant is here, he will turn things around but of course he didn’t change…’
One day while the baby was sleeping, Ellie mustered up the courage to go out to the shed where Charlie was and spoke to him about going home. He knew she wanted to go home, that she missed her family. He’d said that she and Ant could go and if she wanted to stay longer, they could. Two weeks later, she flew to the UK with her baby, for 3 months. ‘Getting on that flight, I just felt this instant relief that I was free and that Ant and I were safe – free from the physical and emotional abuse. I’m going home.’
Ellie kept all her troubles with Charlie to herself, until one night during her stay, an argument erupted on the phone… Bursting into tears, she shared the whole story with her parents. They were horrified at what she’d had to go through. After that Ellie knew she had to tell Charlie that she didn’t want to go back.
The Hague Convention
After I told Charlie that I didn’t want to go back he made an appeal to The Hague Convention on Child Abduction to force the return of baby Ant. Ellie had never heard of The Hague Convention and turned to Google to try to gain an understanding of what it meant. “No you’ve not kidnapped your own child” were the words her parents said to comfort her. Ellie sensed the shame and guilt they felt, guilt of not having helped her before things got to this point.
It was during this time that Ellie found the courage to contact Charlie’s Ex. She opened up a wealth of information about his past, riddled with domestic violence. Ellie hoped that this information would support her case.
Finding legal representation was a challenge. Phone calls to over 50 lawyers – each refusing to take on her case, because it was The Hague Convention. They all believed that, as she was the respondent, she had no chance – she had to go back. Eventually, she found representation: someone with no experience of the Hague Convention.
Ellie was served papers on a Friday and was given until Monday to respond. Over 200 claims, most of them not true. Ellie had to disprove everything. The father did not have to prove anything.
The hearing was held in the High Court. The verdict was given on the following day. The court ruled that Australia was Ant’s habitual residence because he had strong ties to Australia and a half sister there. At only 9 months old he was deemed to be socially integrated despite the fact there was no evidence of this.
Ellie was given 6 weeks to return to Australia with her child – with no protective orders. Faced with going back to a foreign country where an abuser could reach her, Ellie filed an appeal. The appeal was heard in February but the original verdict was upheld. On 3rd March 2017, Ellie found herself and her 1-year-old son on a flight to Australia – penniless, homeless and vulnerable.
Returning to Australia
Fortunately, Ellie was able to travel to a different city where she had friends they could temporarily stay with. Upon arrival at the airport, Ellie spoke to Security. She found out that a domestic violence order was in place for Charlie, from his former partner. With this information, the Australian Federal Police escorted Ellie to her friend’s car.
Ellie was referred to a charity called Berry Street as they help vulnerable children, young people and families by providing safe homes and helping them to heal from trauma. With the help of the charity, Ellie began proceedings to gain an Intervention Order, to protect herself and Ant. She also began relocation proceedings, requesting the case be prioritised. They gave her a pram, clothes, and bedding. Then, they helped her move into a Family Violence flat. Ellie said, ‘Thank goodness for Berry Street, they were incredible, I don’t know what would have become of us if they hadn’t been there’.
After 8 months of countless visits to the magistrates and Family Court, answering the same hundreds of questions over and over again observed interactions with her child and being subjected to harsh mediation from an independent children’s lawyer, Ellie finally won her relocation case and was allowed to return to the UK with Ant. The court Proceeding in Australia disproved everything that The Hague Convention judgment was based on. Australia said, ‘No, he wasn’t socially integrated. He has no ties here. He has no relationship with his dad. He can go back to the UK’
With overwhelming emotion, Ellie reflects on everything that has happened. Her gratitude for the Judge and how he listened – with an open mind. He held a view that a lot of things happen behind closed doors that no one else is aware of. Just because domestic violence has not been reported does not mean it didn’t happen. He listened and she feels so much better for being allowed to say something – to have a voice back after the Hague Convention stripped it away from her.
Ant is only 2 ½ years old and he’s been in 5 different homes. Ellie has never been able to get him into a proper routine at night and he now suffers from separation anxiety, through the night especially. He wakes and doesn’t know how to settle himself again so, he just cries and he has to sleep with Ellie. Ant has twice a week Facetime contact with his Dad and Charlie has the option of visiting his son in the UK.
Now that Ellie is back in her home country, we hope that as time passes she and Ant can create a routine where Ant can feel safe and settled. I thank Ellie for having the courage to share her story.
SHARE YOUR STUCK PARENT STORY
Sharing stories is critical to understanding the challenges that Stuck Parents face. It is also important for their emotional well being, helping them to stay strong and care for their children, finding much-needed support when feeling isolated and alone – far from home and the loving support of family. I am no longer stuck. I can move back home to Canada. The children and I will decide if we do and when we do, for now, I remain in the UK. I hope to help other Stuck Parents by helping them to tell their stories, helping them find their voice, with the support of GlobalARRK. If you would like to share your story, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org