Q. Four years ago, the father of my three children tricked me into signing over guardianship and giving them permission to travel to the USA with them. We were living in Panama and he had an opportunity to get US green cards for our children. I agreed they could go thinking it was a great opportunity for them to get green cards. Once they were official he refused to send them back. I never agreed they could leave forever.
I took them back to Panama and he came and filed a case that I kidnapped them. I was ordered to send the children back to Massachusetts with him. My children are now 18, 16, and 14 and I want them back. He does not let them call me or see me and they want to come home to me.
Can I file the same case that he did and get them ordered back to Panama?
A. He filed for their return under the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. It is an international treaty which both the USA and Panama have signed. There are very specific requirements under the convention to seek their return and that ship has sailed.
First, you had to request the return of the children within one year of their being wrongfully retained in Massachusetts. While you do not say how long you agreed they could come for, I assume it was until they had their green cards several years ago. Of course if they returned to Panama to live shortly after receiving green cards they would jeopardize their newly minted immigration status.
Your second problem is that two of your three children have aged out of the convention. It only applies to children under age 16.
Finally, it sounds like you engaged in some self-help if he filed an action against you and the children were ordered back to Massachusetts. You cannot now expect a court in Massachusetts will have sympathy, even if you were tricked in the beginning, and act as an appellate court essentially reversing the return order issued in Panama.
You are far better served in trying to establishing access rights to your children. Go to the Probate and Family Court in the county where your children are living and file a complaint for custody. Ask the court to award you joint legal custody so that you have a say in all major decisions for your children and ask for parenting time. If you cannot move closer to the children, ask that you have parenting time each summer and during all school vacations. This case would only apply to your 14 and 16 year old children. You are free to contact and make arrangements to see your 18 year old child at any time. Perhaps that child can help re-establish your relationship with the others. And, if the children truly want to return to Panama, no one would stop the older two from deciding with their feet.