An Australian mother who abducted her four children from their home in Florence, Italy and continually violated Australian court orders for their return to their father was rewarded with custody last week.
I’ve written twice before about this case that gets worse and more unbelievable as the days pass. The woman and man met in Italy many years ago when she was studying the Italian language in Florence. They married and had four daughters. Two years ago, she told him she was taking the girls to Australia for a holiday and never returned. He filed a proceeding for the return of the children under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Like clockwork, she filed a claim of child abuse against him which was investigated by the Australian judge and found to be untrue. In due course, the judge ruled, as he was bound to do under the treaty, that the girls be returned to their father.
Having been ordered to return the children to their father, the mother instead sent them into hiding with the avid assistance of a number of her relatives. According to one article about six weeks ago, the mother has no intention of complying with court orders, and her mother seems willing to do far worse. According to the Daily Telegraph,
The mother has said she will stop at nothing to keep the girls in Australia, and when the Family Court ordered their return to Italy two weeks ago, a relative took them into hiding. Disturbingly, the court has also heard that the girls’ maternal grandmother has threatened to “murder the children”, and to “encourage her daughter [the girls' mother] to kill herself too”.
It’s against that backdrop that an Australian judge ruled last week that the mother should have custody of the girls (Brisbane Times, 7/6/12). Yes, she abducted the children for over two years. Yes, much psychology shows parental child abduction to itself be child abuse. Yes, she lied to the court claiming Dad was a child abuser. Yes, she violated court orders by keeping the girls in hiding so their father couldn’t take them to Italy. Yes, she frankly states she’ll never comply with any future court order allowing him custody. And yes, grandma would rather murder the children than let their fit father have custody of them. All of that is well known, but none of it apparently suggested to the honorable judge that maybe, just maybe, Mom isn’t such a great choice to have the children. And yes, there is no longer even a pretense that the father is anything but a loving and responsible father.
That’s what’s laughingly called justice in Australian family courts. That’s what’s called “in the best interests of the child.” You can’t make this stuff up.
Once the children were finally located by the police after Mom sequestered them, they were placed, not with their father, but in foster care. That alone showed the astonishing anti-father bias of the Australian family courts. After all, since there was absolutely no legal impediment to his having custody, and since he was then in Australia, why not give custody to Dad? Indeed, how is it that the court wasn’t required to do so? With no finding – and indeed no allegation – against him, it seemed at the time as it does now, that the only decision a court could have made was paternal custody. But no, the court preferred foster care.
Now, that turns out to have been a bad idea. The Queensland judge cited the “escalation and manifestation of the children’s mental and emotional distress” while in foster care as his main reason for returning them to their mother. Amazingly, the judge was quite clear that he considered only two possible alternatives – foster care or maternal care. Paternal care apparently never entered his mind.
A Queensland judge has ordered four girls, embroiled in an international custody battle, can be returned to their mother until a High Court hearing next month.
They will be reunited with their mother at 7pm tonight.
The judge said he made the interim order with “great reluctance’’ and has granted the girls’ father visitation rights.
But he had been firmly persuaded on the balance that it was better for the children to be returned to their mother, rather than the four sisters remaining in foster care.
I’ll guess that it’s just a matter of time before Mom and her relatives ‘disappear’ the girls again. They’ve done it once and vowed that Dad will never get custody, so, particularly if the hearing in August doesn’t go to suit them, I won’t be a bit surprised to find the kids MIA. And in that event, we can be sure that the judge will act terribly perplexed that such a thing could have occurred. We’ll see.
In the meantime, the girls should be back home in Italy with their father. That’s where they’ve lived most of their lives, and Italian courts are entirely capable of sorting out whatever legal claims remain. That’s what the rule of law dictates. The Hague case has been decided in Dad’s favor. But as we’ve seen, when it comes to fathers’ rights in Australian family courts, the rule of law is a frail reed indeed.