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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

International Intrigue in Georgia Child Custody Dispute

In a recent blog, we discussed an American Bar Association survey in which 1,200 judges participated and collectively voiced a strong view that self-representation without benefit of a knowledgeable and diligent attorney is, in most legal matters, decidedly ill-advised.

That opinion would definitely apply to the following story involving a child custody dispute. Initial reading of the facts reveals both compelling legal questions and a story line that seems entirely suitable for a television drama.

The essential facts are these. Robert Bellew, an American citizen and Georgia resident, and Silvia Larese were married in Italy in 2002. After being married, they resided in Georgia, where Larese taught Italian at the University of Georgia. She returned with the couple’s young son to Italy in 2007 and filed for divorce that same year. Bellew responded by filing a complaint with the Italian government, filing himself for divorce in Georgia, and winning temporary custody of the couple’s son.

An Italian court thereafter gave Larese custody of the child in 2008.

The obvious question: Who has custody? Larese cites to a U.S. law that gives jurisdiction to the state where a child has lived for at least six months prior to the beginning of custody proceedings. She says that “state” is Italy.

A Georgia judge agreed with that view this past February, and Bellew appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, calling Larese’s move to Italy with their son “the international equivalent of kidnapping.”

Justices began hearing arguments on September 12 and are expected to render a decision within four or five months. We will keep readers posted.

Related Resource: “Court hears international custody case” September 13, 2010