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May 30th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
This case has stirred the Australian press for almost a month now.  I posted this piece about it some two weeks ago.  It’s the case of the Australian woman who moved to Italy to study the language, met an Italian man, married him and had four daughters with him.  They separated with her getting primary custody and him getting fairly sparse visitation.  Two years ago, she took the girls to Australia for what she said was a holiday, never to return.  He’s been going through various court procedures to try to get his kids back and earlier this year, prevailed.  An Australian court found that the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction required the girls’ return to Italy.  The mother had claimed that the father was abusive, but the Australian judge found no evidence of that.  

What’s been most remarkable about the case is the press coverage it’s received in Australia.  In my first piece on it, I pointed out that, of the many articles on the case, not one reporter thought to contact the father.  Against a seamless backdrop of pro-mother outrage, the father remained literally voiceless.  That was true despite the fact that the mother had plainly violated the law.  As well, her claims of abuse had been investigated and found unsupported.  So in fact, the judge did the only thing he could do and the only thing he should have done for the sake of the children, the father and the rule of law – order them returned to the father in Italy.

But the fact that the legal system worked properly and reached the correct result seemed not to dawn on any reporter on the case.  If it did, they never let on about it.

Since the initial writing of the narrative that featured a fearless mother desperate to protect her innocent daughters from a dark and foreign brute, things have changed.  Facts have come out that contradict that narrative and the Australian news media are looking foolish trying to backtrack.  There’s a brand new story and it bears little resemblance to the pre-fab one we’ve read to date.

In the first place, given the fact that no reporter thought to pick up a telephone and call him, the father has made his own statement.

The father saw his children three times last week and released a statement on Thursday hitting out at the “negative description of me [which] has been presented unilaterally, untruthfully and knowingly distorted by the media.

“As a result I now feel the urgent need to state that I am a father completely different from that which has been published and repeated about me.

“The Italian courts and any other justice system are aware that I am a model father. No evidence has been presented to any courts which supports the unfounded and incorrect allegations made against me.”

Who’d have guessed?  The Australian papers didn’t have a clue even though the judge had made that explicit finding.  They didn’t know because they didn’t want to know.  Model fathers don’t fit their narrative in any case, and this one in particular.  And of course it’s so much easier to just channel what Mom says because after all, why would she lie?  Well, maybe because she’d violated the law herself; maybe because child abduction is itself a form of child abuse; and given those two things, she had to justify her behavior somehow.  That’s why she would lie, but the ace reporters didn’t think of it.

Nor did it occur to them that Mom’s hiding the children so the police couldn’t turn them over to Dad was rather strange behavior.  This time she was in violation of a court order in addition to all the rest of her wrongdoing, but it didn’t occur to the press that there was a pattern of lawlessness here.  The idea that a parent who continually violates the law in order to keep the other parent out of the children’s lives might not be the saint of a mother she presents herself to be didn’t register.  And then there’s that nasty little term, “parental alienation” for which the mother is beginning to look like the poster child.  That term didn’t occur to the Australian reporters either.  It’s truly amazing how people can stare something straight in the face and not see it.

Now Dad is in Australia.  He came there to pick up his kids whom the court ordered to be returned to him.  Since Mom sent the kids into hiding and they were recovered by the police, they’re now in foster care.  That means Dad gets to visit them three days a week, and when he did, the girls were overjoyed to see him.  Mom had told all and sundry that they were terrified of him and doubtless she wanted them to be.  But they weren’t.

She has claimed the father is violent and their daughters are afraid of him.

But he denies her allegations and photos he has posted on Facebook support his version of events.

They show the four pretty girls, smiling and looking at ease with him during a supervised custody visit on Thursday in Brisbane.

In one photo, the youngest two are sitting on Dad’s lap in between the older two, all with arms around each other. Other photos show each girl individually hugging Dad.

The body language appears natural and unforced.

The meeting “was fairly emotional as you’d expect when someone hasn’t seen their kids for two years,” says the father’s Brisbane-based lawyer, Giovanni Porta.

“They had a birthday cake and celebrated all the birthdays that they had missed.”

So it’s pretty clear that the Australian and Italian judges were right all along – the man is a fine father who loves his daughters and they love him.  Will the Australian press finally figure out that the mother has been lying all along for the sole sake of depriving her daughters of their father?  She’s the one whose visitation with them should be supervised, not him.

Into the bargain, it looks like the girls’ maternal grandmother is no prize either.

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”.

Nice.

Finally, one reporter is starting to make sense of this case.  Here’s the article by the Daily Telegraph‘s Miranda Devine (Daily Telegraph, 5/27/12).  She points out the obvious – that what makes sense is to follow the law.  What a concept.  But as it turns out, even that won’t be easy, at least not for the father.  He understood that the girls were to be turned over to him, so he took two weeks off his job in Florence to fly to Australia and pick them up.  But then Mom sent them into hiding and managed to convince the High Court to hear the case, which it won’t do until August.  How much longer Dad will be without his children is anyone’s guess.  How much more mischief can Mom make in that time, particularly with him thousands of miles away.  Meanwhile, the girls remain in foster care.  Well done, Mom.  Now your girls have neither parent.

And so far, all of that is perfectly fine with the Australian courts that are poised to do nothing to punish the mother’s multiple offenses against laws and court orders.

And while the mother has defied court orders, she faces no sanction.

A spokesman says the Family Court does not “take it upon itself” to bring “contravention proceedings” against people who fail to comply with orders, but requires the other party to do so. The father has wisely chosen not to pursue any sanctions.

“His only aim has been to be re-united with his children,” his solicitor says.

As a society we demand “deadbeat dads” be hunted down and rightly penalised for failing to honour their responsibilities to their offspring.

Yet when a father desperately wants to be involved in the upbringing of his children, his rights ought to be treated equally seriously.

You only have to look at the loving photos of the girls with their father to see what is in their best interests.

Thank you Miranda Devine for finally seeing what was there all along.

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