International Child Abduction

This has to be one of the most amazing, trying and emotionally draining cases I have ever been involved in. I have changed the names and other identifying information of those involved to protect their identities but nevertheless the story goes something like this: Imagine Marat a young Scandinavian student arriving in Australia alone, wide eyed and ready to continue her tertiary education in Sydney. She meets Mahmud a charming, young, well-built gentleman of Middle Eastern background. Young and in love the couple begin dating and the rest is history. They have a child together, Matilda.
Marat is home-sick, the gloss of life Down Under fades. She decides to return home to Sweden. Unfortunately, she forgot to tell Mahmud that things were over and that she wanted to return home, taking Matilda with her! Mahmud seeks the child’s return to Australia. He commences Hague Convention proceedings. In the meantime he also hires an international child abduction private investigator. Together they travel to Sweden and confront Marat. Fearful of legal processes Marat hands Matilda over to Mahmud. Mahmud returns to Australia with the child and commences child custody proceedings in the Family Law Courts. Here is where I step in. Marat instructed me to act for her.
The Court process continues and Mahmud runs out of money. He agrees for Marat to return to Sweden with Matilda. As part of the deal Marat promised Mahmud that if he moved to Sweden she will set him up in Sweden with accommodation, a new car and job.  A perfect new life… Mahmud says to Marat: “I have a mate in Fiji, do you mind if I take Matilda to Fiji for the weekend to say goodbye to my mate before we leave for Sweden”.  Foolishly, Marat allows Mahmud to travel with Matilda. Unsurprisingly, I was soon contacted by Marat distressed that Mahmud had taken the child to the Middle East.
I contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the then Australian Customs Service, Passport Office and several other Australian Government agencies on behalf of Marat only to be told effectively: “once a person has left Australia, the Department has no idea where they have gone”. I have to say in this day and age of computerisation, electronic communication etc I was shocked by this response.
I was able to obtain valuable information to assist Marat in finding Matilda by filing an Application in the Family Law Courts to have Mahmud’s close family members living in Australia brought before the Court and one-by-one be cross- examined about his whereabouts. This provided valuable information which (in addition to Marat’s own investigations) led to finding Mahmud and Matilda in Mahmud’s family ancestry village in the Middle East.
To her amazingly brave credit Marat travels to the Middle East to be reunited with Matilda. Upon her arrival she was captured by Mahmud’s family and held under armed house arrest. Mahmud then files proceedings in the Sharia Courts; Marat files proceedings in the local Civil Law Courts. I’m liaising with lawyers and government officials all over the world. Fortunately for Marat, Mahmud is a keen body builder. He hasn’t worked out for a number of months since leaving Australia and was keen to hit the gym. Marat convinces Mahmud to allow the “family” to move into town. They find a nice hotel complete with a modern gym. Marat begins making plans to leave.
After a number of weeks an escape plan is devised. Marat takes Matilda for a short break whilst Mahmud is pumping iron in the hotel gym. Exiting the hotel, Marat and Matilda escape to a safe house before eventually making it to Malta and ultimately back home to Sweden. Subsequently, proceedings were heard in the Swedish Courts which effectively gave Marat sole custody if Matilda. I suspect the sage will continue indefinitely.
Whilst this has been a very abridged version of one of the most complicated cases involving multiple international child abductions, resulting in proceedings and litigation in numerous jurisdictions and different legal systems, as well as the invoking of international treaties and inter-government cooperation agreements; it is perhaps the human factors which are so tragic about this case:

  •  Essentially, Mahmud and Marat were both very good people caught up in an extraordinary situation.
  • Both parents loved Matilda, so much so that they were prepared to give up everything (including their own lives) to be with her.
  • Because of the massive distrust that developed between then, neither parent will ever have the confidence that the other will not again escape with Matilda to another country.
  • Matilda will miss out on the benefits of growing up having a meaningful relationship with her father.
  • Matilda has missed out on the benefits of growing up and having a meaningful relationship with the paternal side of her family which significantly means she will also miss out on experiencing those cultural aspects of her heritage which only they can offer her.

The moral of this story if there is one – think carefully of the long-term ramifications of your actions.  Particularly in the early stages of a separation distrust develops effortlessly. Unfortunately, once trust is lost it can be next to impossible to re-establish it. I often hear Family Court Judges say to warring parties appearing before them in their Courts “the ultimate gift separating parents can give their children is the gift of having a normal childhood and growing up having a meaningful relationships with those persons important to them”. Sadly for Matilda, whilst both of her parents clearly love her dearly, both have miserably failed to give her these most basic of gifts.

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