A lot of attention has been given by the media recently to the case of 2-year old Susan, whose mother has been ordered by the courts to send her daughter back to Spain in a custody case, based on international law.
Susan and her mother Zuzana Hartlova from Martin lived briefly with the child’s father José Juan in Spain, but as their short relationship broke down, Zuzana returned to Slovakia taking her daughter with her. Unfortunately, because she did not get written consent of her partner before leaving, international law dictates that the child must be returned to her place of ‘usual residence’.
Young Susan’s father sought custody of her after several months, eventually proving successful, when on 16 May the District Court in Martin ruled that the child was to return to Spain to live. The mother Zuzana says her appeals were turned down and evidence showing that she had not abducted her own child was not given consideration by the court.
According to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a child should live in the country where it has spent most of its life. In the case of young Susan, who was actually born in Slovakia, she spent 132 more days of her short life in Spain than in Slovakia and so must now be taken from her mother to live with her father.
This precedence, as it seems to be the first case in which a Slovak court ordered a female child to be expatriated, raises several questions as to what is right or wrong in cases of custody and if the law is in fact acting in the child’s best interests.
The verdict has sent a shock-wave through Slovakia, especially as courts tend to sway in favour of the mother in such cases. Few people would have expected a Slovak court to issue the verdict that it did.
As the law stands, Slovak citizens and their foreign partners should be aware that they cannot just leave the country of their child’s usual residence without the consent of their partner, as this can be classed as an international abduction under the said Hague Convention. This essentially means that a parent may have to stay indefinitely in a foreign country just to be with their own child. The mother Zuzana is trying everything she can to overturn the ruling.
Many concerned Slovak fathers may have mixed views about this outcome and could regard the latest verdict as hypocrisy. Courts in Slovakia, for instance, are still neglecting to apply a Slovak law on shared custody that acquired force last summer.
The legislation allows either parent the right to have the child in their custody for an equal amount of time, or as the parents agree, but the courts are not applying it in practice, which usually means the father is held ransom by their former partner as to when they can and cannot see their own child.
The Slovak organisation LigaOtcov (League of Fathers) has been fighting for the law to be respected and recently held a special exposition on the subject directly in parliament. Representatives of the League told The Daily that the situation is critical, and they have every right to question how it is possible that Slovak courts bend to the will of international law and bestow custody of a Slovak-born child on a foreign national, when the rights of Slovak fathers, and applicable domestic legislation, are being totally ignored by the courts.