Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
The family court system can be a complex, emotional and deeply frustrating experience, especially when it comes to making arrangements for the care of children.
As John Pulu reports a community-led programme known as “Make Them Proud” created and facilitated by a Samoan dad who is using his experience of going through the family court system to help others.
Family is everything for Frank Hicks. Since 2015, he’s been running free parental disputes workshop helping parents to navigate their way through the family court system.
“The ‘Make Them Proud’ workshop is a community initiative to give parents who are breaking up or thinking about breaking up all the information they need so that they can get through that without losing their relationship with their children, with their ex-partner, with family and friends without losing their assets, their home, their job without losing their mind and in some cases losing their lives,” Hicks said.
The father of two knows first-hand what many in this room are going through as he had his own custody battle back in 2014.
“The experience was just traumatic. I mean the break-up itself is traumatic but then having to go through the court process without knowing, and that was the hardest part, not knowing what was required, what the process was, whether or not you were ever going to see your children again.”
That has motivated him to learn about the family court process and while working as a truck driver he would often study the law during his breaks.
“I was self-litigating. I had no money, I had a protection order against me and I was able to achieve success in the court process but what made it successful was a change in attitude and then, using the court process,” Hicks added.
The final outcome allowed him to co-parent his children and he wants others on the same journey to benefit from his experience.
Frank runs the parental disputes programmes in the Auckland area under the charitable trust ‘Guardians of our children’.
One of the members at his workshop is a mother of six who has been separated from her partner for a few years now and they are currently working out how co-parenting can help their young family.
“I didn’t know what to do because, like, I don’t know the system. We met Frank a few times. He told us a few things to do and he’s made it easier for me,” she says.
On hand to offer advice are mediators, social workers and professionals who are here to give participants a sense of hope during the tough times.
Si’iva Stanley-Schuster is a family court navigator at the Ministry of Justice and she welcomes this collective approach.
“Having a workshop like Frank’s one is so empowering to the whānau who are either about to come through the family court process or contemplating coming through the family court process because he’s able to give them lived experience as well as advice and tips and hints about what to expect next, or where-to from here; I think knowledge is power, so I think it’s very important,” Stanley-Schuster says.
It’s knowledge that Frank hopes will help the next generation and make them proud.
“We could roll this out and do this all across the country and be able to change the trajectory of a lot of children’s lives and save them from what could potentially be a lot of damage to them and give them the best possible chance to succeed in life.”