Mother of two sons, Hudson and Joel, Profession: Hairdresser, Location: Melbourne
‘You’ll never know dear how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.’
– Paul Rice
I once lived in a fairy tale, a magical whirlwind romance filled with excitement. We fought then made up, fought then made up, at least ten times a week; he flirted with other women but somehow made me feel special; he compared me to his two ex-wives but assured me I was ‘The One’. As I walked down the aisle to marry this man, I was overjoyed, he had chosen ME to heal his broken dreams. I would love and nurture this poor man who had been hurt by so many people in the past.
In 2001, the love of my life arrived in the form of a beautiful, whopping, nine-pound baby boy, Hudson. In front of family and friends, Dillon was a great father; busy changing nappies and being an adoring playful dad and husband. Mums would comment about how lucky I was, complaining their husbands were always too tired to help. Little did they know it was all a facade. Nevertheless, this was the person I chose to marry, and I was determined to make it work.
Unfortunately, Dillon had little faith in the institution of marriage as his biological father left when he was a baby, his stepfather left when he was a teenager, and his first two wives had affairs with family members. He had huge abandonment issues, so I wanted to smother him with love and security. It seemed, however, that no matter what I did, it was never enough. The battles and mind games within our seemingly happy union were never-ending.
In 2004, three years later, Hudson’s brother and best friend arrived: baby Joel. From day one, this gorgeous, innocent, little soul was the apple of his brother’s eye; Joel consuming Hudson’s every waking moment. Even in later years, when they spent time apart because of school, Hudson couldn’t wait to see his brother at the end of the day, and the feeling was mutual, it was beautiful to witness. After Joel was born, my attitude toward our marriage changed. I had become increasingly frustrated, because everything I did was never good enough. I was juggling my sons with my business (a hairdressing salon), luckily, with the love and support of my devoted parents and best friend, Lisa. My parents, ‘Nan and Pop’ had a strong bond with their grandsons; Pop was Hudson’s best mate. Their favourite outing was fishing down at the pier or sailing on their boat. Pop also spent time with boys; at the beach, in their pool, or playing cricket and football. Joel was Nan’s ‘little man’. They loved singing, dancing, drawing, and watching Spongebob together. Both my sons would nag me constantly to stay at Nan and Pops, they loved being with them. I was so proud to have two wonderful sons who brought Mum and Dad so much joy and happiness.
My best friend, Lisa, was always (and still is) there to pick up the pieces. Whether I needed a loving ‘aunt’ to watch my sons, a counsellor to un-jumble my scattered thoughts, or even a hand with the housework, Lisa was there to help along with her children (my godchildren) Tommy and Lola.
Ten months after Joel was born, two significant events occurred: Lisa’s second baby, Lola, was born, and I left my husband for the final time. The arrival of Lola made me realise how precious life is, and the people around me. I was suffocated in a hurtful, toxic marriage which prevented me from being the best mother, daughter, and friend I could be.
Dillon used his charm and manipulation on many of our family and friends, causing them to believe my father and I were the ones treating him badly. They soon realised the truth when none of his stories ever added up. I was fortunate to have the love and support of Dillon’s brother, Marcus, his wife, Paige, and their children. They had endured past incidences with Dillon which had led to major family breakdowns. When faced with Dillon’s ultimatum, ‘If you ever speak to Suzie again, you’re no longer my brother’, Marcus simply replied, ‘My loyalty lies with my nephews, not you, not Suz. I will always be there for my nephews.’ He even called Hudson every night to wish him goodnight during the first year of our separation, because Dillon was ‘unavailable’.
Two years later, our lives took another significant turn when two girlfriends and I decided to take on the Kokoda track in Papua New Guinea. It didn’t take long for us to establish a relationship with our Australian guide—a strong yet gentle, charismatic Melbourne man named Francis. He spoke of the soldiers with such compassion. He taught us dates and statistics like a university professor and took on treacherous terrain like an athlete; he would even comfort us when we cried over missing our children. Francis and I continued hanging out when we arrived home and four months later, we surprisingly fell into an unbreakable bond of love and mutual respect. He had two sons of his own, which meant between us we had four sons: Hudson (then 6), Joel (3), Mitch (16), and Kevi (13). It didn’t take long for my sons to see the ‘big boys’ as their real-life superheroes, especially Kevi. He took the big brother role by the horns: reading them bedtime stories; teaching them how to kick a footy; buying them treats from the milk bar. The boys adored him!
Together, Francis and I loved, guided, nursed, protected, and advised our four soldiers the best we could through their life hurdles, and after six years, we officially became a family when Francis and I tied the knot, in January 2014. Although it was a happy time, this was unfortunately when our nightmare began.
After we announced our wedding plans, one year prior to our special day, Hudson became increasingly uncooperative and disrespectful towards Francis and me. It was his first year of high school and he was making no effort to learn or enjoy it, which was sad because his primary school years had brought him so much happiness. Each fortnight, he would return from his father’s with more disturbing comments about our parenting. Slowly, he became more distant and withdrawn, until one morning I asked, ‘What will make you happy, how can I make you happy?’ He sternly replied, ‘I’m not going to be happy until I live with my dad!’ My younger son started crying saying, ‘I want to stay with Hudson.’ Dillon’s day of glory had arrived; he had manipulated my sons’ minds with endless false promises and talk of an amazing life with him. I believed this nightmare would only last a couple of weeks, at most. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After three years and five months of living in a home without them, I can now finally see exactly how Dillon and his wife had manipulated the family law system and my sons. I believe that they were very threatened by the fact that Hudson and Joel had a loving and responsible stepfather, stepbrothers, grandparents, and extended family. During this time, the trauma and alienation we’ve endured are as follows:
- Francis had a six-month Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) put on him, with many false allegations consisting of physical and emotional abuse. This AVO was in place prior to our wedding which was intended to prevent my sons from attending. They did attend our wedding as our lawyer at the time had added a clause that if my sons wished to attend our wedding, they could. They were petrified to notify their father of these wishes, so I simply told them to tell him after the wedding. It took about twenty minutes after the ceremony for them to melt into Francis’ arms and realise that he was not angry, he just missed them terribly.
- Francis and I had supervised drug testing for three months. My ex-husband and his current wife were ordered to take the same tests, but they didn’t comply; there were no consequences for them.
- We had full police checks into drug dealing.
- Francis was threatened that he’d be reported for severe child abuse which could cause his employment of twenty-five years with the fire brigade to be terminated.
- We were accused of drink driving offences, and drunk and disorderly.
- We were accused of continuously stalking and threatening Dillon, his wife, and their other children, an eleven-year-old daughter, and sixteen-year-old son who was taken by the DHHS because of severe neglect and abuse six years prior, and her nineteen-year-old daughter who was raised by the grandparents for various reasons.
After all these investigations were proven false, the bombshell came and almost destroyed my parents’ health and our family’s sanity. Dillon accused my father of sexually molesting Hudson. It started off as one small false allegation and with each interview with the police unit, Sexual Offences and Child Investigative Team (SOCIT), and Hudson’s psychiatrist, the story was changed to the point where it was actually a joke.
My father, who is a most respectful father and grandfather in his mid-seventies, had endured the worst nightmare. He was interrogated for over ten hours (over two separate visits) and investigated by police and DHHS in their family home. The investigation was closed after six long months, and when asked why it took so long for an outcome, we were simply told, ‘As this was not a severe case where the child was in immediate or severe danger, it had basically been put on the ‘back-burner’’. This traumatic period in our family’s life, especially my father’s, was certainly far from ‘not severe’. As this was the first time any of our family members had had any police involvement, it rattled all of us to the core. After the case was closed, Dillon and his wife, again, suffered no consequences for wasting police and DHHS time and resources.
Shortly after these allegations were put to rest, I found myself in a position where I had to make a serious decision to choose life over the alternative. A very unfortunate incident stopped me in my tracks but forced me to evaluate our whole heart-wrenching existence. I’d had a very heated argument with Hudson’s psychiatrist on the phone. He had nervously told me that he was well out of his depth and he could not help my son anymore, as he couldn’t determine who was telling the truth. This sent me over the edge in an instant; I was a severely desperate mother clinging onto whomever and whatever I could to help my sons out of this horrible prison. I had learnt of this latest psychiatrist through the court documents; Dillon had formed a pattern of changing my sons’ therapists every time I had contacted them and informed them of the severe alienation and manipulation.
This argument landed my husband and I in the back of an ambulance with a slash to my wrist and deep wounds across his fingers where he snatched the knife from me. I had finally snapped. I honestly do not know how this happened; it was almost an out-of-body experience, and like a ‘strobe’ effect. One minute I was on the phone, and the next my best friend Lisa was hugging me in hospital. The surreal moments in between were feelings of extreme panic, confusion, and anger. I was staring death in the face. I just could not handle any more doors being slammed shut. My ex-husband had successfully manipulated not only my sons against me, but also anyone who had any authority in deciding what was in the best interest of my sons.
My ex-husband and his wife were experts in dealing with family law matters and DHHS. They’d had previous experience as they’d had two children removed from their care and both had had numerous dealings with Victorian Police. They had learnt how to ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’ (a little phrase a lawyer had used during a meeting). She also informed me ‘off the record’ that truth, unfortunately, has NOTHING to do with it and I needed to learn how to ‘play the game’ just as Dillon and his current wife had.
This hospital visit, and the realisation that I really was not coping as well as I thought I was, and the fact that I had dragged my family and close friends down with me, led me to the decision to leave it to fate. We could not have fought any harder than we did; we tried absolutely everything we could to both defend ourselves against the continuous false allegations and to protect and rescue my sons from their father’s toxic prison. All we were doing was just fuelling their fire and filling the pockets of the seemingly-useless lawyers that were supposedly fighting to return my sons back to me. We just could not physically, emotionally, or financially take any more.
In my heart, I knew that my sons would find their way ‘home’. They were raised with a solid foundation of unconditional love, guidance, encouragement, and support. They were taught respect and the importance of truth. During my darkest days, I struggled severely with thinking, Where did I go wrong? I eventually found comfort in the thought that, It is what is it, somewhere, somehow, my sons and I had some very important lessons to learn.
Almost three years after not laying eyes on my sons (except from a distance in court, and the back of their heads when they refused to look at me during mediation sessions), Hudson is safely back in my arms! I cannot describe the feeling I had when he ran across the courthouse, emotionally calling, ‘MUM!!’ It was the same incredible feeling I had when the doctor gave him to me at Sandringham hospital almost sixteen years prior. He was the most amazing gift anyone could have given me, and I’ve been so blessed to have received him twice! Incredible!
Unfortunately, the circumstances in which he was returned aren’t at all pleasant. The DHHS, police, and hospitalisation of Hudson was involved, BUT he not only survived, he gained so much strength and wisdom, and so much more than any textbook could ever teach him. The biggest one of all is what kind of father and husband he DOESN’T want to be. He learned the hard way for himself that unfortunately, his father wasn’t the superhero he thought he was. He also discovered that love and acceptance from family should not come with rules and conditions; a real family has a strong, unconditional, unbreakable bond.
I, myself, have learned some extremely valuable life lessons too. Amongst many other things, patience and gratitude are of extreme importance. My patience was pushed to its absolute limit, but somehow, I found peace in ‘it is what it is’ and one of my precious sons is back home with me. My patience will help Hudson, my family, and I remain strong and focused until the time is right for my youngest son Joel to return safely back with us. I’ve always loved and appreciated my nearest and dearest, but I am so COMPLETELY in awe of the beautiful souls who’ve nurtured me in their unconditional love, no matter how difficult this horrendous ride got.
Eight months down the track, we are neck-deep in court proceedings again, trying to bring Joel home where he is loved and missed by so many, but we are all embracing this precious solo time with Hudson. It’s been an incredible journey watching him regain the sparkle in his eye, the passion to live, and a much needed six or so kilograms (I can’t believe how much teenagers eat!).
So here we are, filled with unconditional love, patience, gratitude, strength, wisdom, and HOPE. Joel will find his way back ‘home’ … Just as Hudson did … Just as your beautiful children will, too.
LOVE AND TRUTH CONQUERS ALL.
From Suzie’s story, the apparent trigger in an escalation of behaviour from Dillon was her marriage to Francis, and the formation of their new, blended, family unit. It appears the alienation with Hudson coincided with his commencement of secondary school and the children’s ‘disturbing’ comments seem to be the first indication of the damage to their relationship with their mother. Suzie should have sought specialist family law advice at the time that her sons started making these comments. This advice may have led to her seeking child inclusive mediation to understand the source of the change and strong wishes from Dillon, or it could have led to court proceedings and a family report, which may have exposed what was occurring between them at that time. If sought early enough, a family report can be a powerful tool in detecting parental alienation.
Suzie suggests that Dillon was able to manipulate the family law system, in addition to the children, to achieve their goals. It is true that an intervention order, or an ‘AVO’ (Apprehended Violence Order), which is a term used in some states, can be used as a weapon rather than a sword. Allegations in an application for an intervention order are made in a written application in the first instance, and then by giving verbal evidence in the witness box. There is typically no opponent when the order is made, so the court only hears one side of the story. This means that the court will, in many cases, make the interim order, which means that unless the defendant attends court to defend the application, it can thereafter be made on a final basis. In this case, it appears that the target of the accusations was not Suzie, but Francis.
It appears that Suzie and Francis were subjected to multiple false allegations. When allegations around drug use are raised, one way to defend such an application is by voluntarily providing supervised drug screens or a hair test which will show whether drugs have been detected. If a positive test is made, then this could lead to supervised time with the children being ordered. If no positive test is found, then often the accusations can be found to be baseless. Accusations regarding criminal behaviours, such as drink driving offences, and being drunk and disorderly can be disproven by issuing a subpoena to the police. Allegations regarding stalking and threats can be proven or disproven in multiple ways. One way is by obtaining records to show your location at the time of the alleged incident, whether by social media apps, CCTV or telephone records, or otherwise by giving evidence, or having witnesses give evidence on your behalf.
Allegations of sexual abuse can be a sinister weapon in legal proceedings generally, as the court is likely to act protectively and provide for supervised time in a reflex action, leaving the allegations untested until an interim defended hearing, or a final hearing can take place, which can be twelve to eighteen months later. When dealing with allegations of this nature, a lawyer can prepare by providing a psychological assessment of the accused, and character witnesses in their support. But the risk to the child is so concerning, that even in those circumstances, the court may order supervision, or limited time with the children and the accused, until the final hearing stage.
One of the most concerning elements of Suzie’s story is the assertion that Dillon changed his sons’ therapists every time she contacted them to inform them of the manipulation. In that respect, Suzie’s lawyers should have intervened to ensure that the children would not be exposed to too many professionals. This is something we often refer to as ‘systems abuse’. It is not clear whether this issue was raised, or how the court tolerated such a significant change in the psychological supports for the children.
In this case, thankfully, Hudson was able to find his way back home. Part of this may have been due to his age. At sixteen years of age, the court would be likely to take his wishes into consideration and Dillon would have had substantive difficulty in resisting his wishes.
The incident referred to by Suzie, which involved the police, DHHS, and the hospitalisation and any evidence from Hudson himself which could be provided by way of a counselling or psychologist’s report, could be persuasive evidence, which could assist Suzie in returning Hudson’s brother, Joel, home again.
Legal Commentary by Monica Blizzard Accredited Family Law Specialist (LIV)
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