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Father loses final bid to keep son in Malta

The Court of Appeal yesterday rejected an appeal lodged by a father in a child abduction case and ordered that the boy be returned to the United States, which was his habitual residence.

The court heard that last April the Director of the Standards Department within the Social Protection Department filed an appeal against the child's father at the request of the mother.

The director asked the First Hall of the Civil Court to order the child's return to Florida, USA.

The first court heard that the couple had three children and that the dispute involved one of them, a 14-year-old boy. It resulted that the couple had always resided in Florida, but when their relationship deteriorated, the father came to Malta in July 2006 together with the son. It did not result that the mother had objected to this, and from time to time she visited Malta and saw her son.

However, after some time, the couple's relationship further deteriorated, and the mother requested the director to file proceedings for the child's return to Florida.

The first court ruled that this was a case of unlawful retention of a child. Although the son told the court he wished to live with his father, the First Hall of the Civil Court ruled it was not going to enter into the merits of who was the better parent.

The only matter the court had to decide was which was the competent court to hear and decide upon the child's future. In this case the competent court was that of the state of Florida where the couple had resided for many years and where the wife still lived.

Any decision relating to the custody of children was best decided in the jurisdiction where they normally lived. The court therefore ordered that the child be returned to Florida.

The father then lodged an appeal to the Court of Appeal composed of Chief Justice Vincent Degaetano, Mr Justice Albert J. Magri and Mr Justice Tonio Mallia.

The father told the court the wife had come to settle in Malta and had been accepted as a teacher in a local school. But the court noted that as a result of the father's intransigence, the mother, who shared joint custody of the son, was not allowed unobstructed access to him.

The court added that the father had declared his intention of moving with the son to the Dominican Republic. It was at this point that the wife had availed herself of the remedies granted to her at law to have her son returned to his normal abode.

It was obvious that the custody of the son would be a vital issue in the divorce proceedings between his parents and it was therefore clear that the custody issue be decided by the court that would decide upon the divorce.

The Court of Appeal upheld the judgment of the first court and ordered the child's return to Florida.

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