After a year-long, hard-fought battle both in the family courts of Portugal and the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, Burns & Levinson partner Elizabeth Crowley has secured a victory in an international custody case that will reunite a little girl with her father later this month.
The pro bono case, which the firm took on from the state department last summer, involves a young girl who was brought to the U.S. from Portugal by her mother for a vacation but was never returned home after her mother decided to stay in the U.S. As her father, the firm's client, had primary custody of the child, the girl's retention in the U.S. was in direct violation of the family court's ruling in Portugal.
The Burns & Levinson team, which included partner Brian Bixby and associates Lorraine Stark and Jordan Bowne, got to work immediately by filing the necessary complaint and paperwork under the Hague Convention, which international agreement provides authority to a federal district court to determine the merits of a claim for the wrongful retention of a child.
Thankfully the girl's father had experienced family law counsel in Portugal, who was able to assist. After months of preparation and litigation, trial was held in April 2015. Lengthy testimony and evidence had to be presented via video conference during trial, due to the father's residence in Portugal and financial constraints.
"While the coordination and use of technology coupled with a rather non-traditional presentation of oral testimony may have put some grey hairs on us all, we got it done," said Elizabeth. "And ultimately, we got the decision that was warranted - that this sweet little girl will be returned to her father this summer."
On July 15, the firm's client, who is a factory worker, will travel to Boston to pick up his daughter and return with her to Portugal. Elizabeth and her team are helping to raise funds for the family to help ease the financial burden of the trip.
"The last three years have been incredibly difficult, as my daughter is my life," said the girl's father. "The legal help from Burns & Levinson has been a blessing. The fact that they're now helping me to travel to the U.S. to bring my daughter home leaves me with no words to express my gratitude."
"While every case and outcome is important in its own right, delivering this news to a very anxious and patient father was certainly a highlight for us all," said Elizabeth. "Our client is ecstatic about getting his daughter back and has been sending us his praise and gratitude almost daily."