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NJ father wins child custody case, still cannot see his daughter

It is well known that divorce can be a bitter and acrimonious process. This is hard when it upsets the lives of the two spouses, but matters become even more difficult when children are involved. Child custody disputes are never pretty. Hopefully, parents debate over custody because they believe that they are doing what is in the best interests of the child, but some parent inevitably take the issue too far.

This is the case with two New Jersey parents. The ex-spouse's divorced after five years of marriage back in 2004. As part of the divorce, they signed a parenting agreement to allocate care for their 4-year-old daughter. According to the agreement, neither parent could take the young girl overseas without consent form the other party. The law firm that oversaw the agreement held onto the girl's passport as part of the deal. When the mother changed lawyers, the new firm somehow turned over the passport. The girl's mother is originally from Spain and, a month after the exchange, took her daughter on a trip to England. Eventually, the two landed in Spain, where the two remain to this day.

In the meantime, a Hackensack, New Jersey, judge awarded sole custody to the father. The judge ordered the mom to return the young girl to her father in the U.S., but the mother would not oblige stating that Spanish courts held jurisdiction. Child custody enforcement becomes exceedingly difficult when one parent claims that another court, much less another court in another country, has jurisdiction over the case.

The father sued the law firm that turned over the passport, and the state Appellate Division recently upheld a jury award to the father for $700,000 plus attorney's fees for the emotional stress he endured as a result. The dad has not seen his daughter for many years, and there is the possibility that he may not see her again, unless the Spanish courts comply. The mother was criminally charged for interfering with child custody and is now over halfway through her 14-year prison term.

This case is an example for parents on how not to handle a child custody dispute. It is never wise to go against a parenting agreement or court order, and, especially, not a good idea to move a child out of the country in violation of such an agreement. If parents are unhappy or displeased with how the current arrangement is working, is always best to talk to an attorney about options for modification instead of taking matters into their own hands.

Source: The Record, "Court hands win, loss to Hackensack law firm, Hasbrouck Heights dad seeking girl's return from Spain," Peter J. Sampson, April 8, 2014

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