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Case highlights challenges of international child custody

A highly disturbing case has led to widespread attention toward the issue of international custody matters. An American mother has been fighting a seven-year battle for the return of her son, who is caught in the middle of a child custody matter between his mother and his paternal family. The case is heartbreaking, but it serves to shed a light on what many feel is a lack of rights for parents in Florida and elsewhere who are faced with similar challenges.

The mother was already separated from her child's father when she agreed to allow him to take the boy home to Puerto Rico to visit with family members. He was planning to return with the toddler after a few weeks. Unfortunately, the father was the victim of gun violence while on the trip and died as a result. The boy was cared for by his paternal grandmother, and the mother expected that he would be returned in a short period of time.

The paternal family refused to bring the boy home or turn him over to this mother, however, sparking a long child custody battle. The mother filed a custody case in her state of residence, but the court found that there was no need for a case, because a natural parent automatically receives custody rights when the other parent passes away. Soon after, the grandmother began custody proceedings in Puerto Rico.

This has left the mother in a difficult position, as she is not afforded any protections under the Hague Convention due to the fact that she already had custody of the child when he was removed from the country, and there was no parental abduction at play. She is now forced to continue the fight in Puerto Rican courts, but the child has been in the care of his grandmother for so long now that the courts are likely to factor that in when making a determination. Virtually anyone in Florida can sympathize with a mother who loses her child in such a bizarre turn of events, and the case serves as an example of the complexity at play in many international child custody cases.

Source: delawareonline.com, "Delaware mother in Puerto Rican legal limbo over son", Jessica Masulli Reyes, June 4, 2016

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