BOSTON – A woman who has been stranded in Brazil with her 6-year-old daughter because of a dispute with the girl’s father expects to return home soon.
Representatives for both sides told The Associated Press on Wednesday that a Brazilian judge has decided to return the U.S. passports that federal police seized from the visitors from North America in early June.
“We are so happy and excited to leave,” 33-year-old Shauna Hadden told AP in an email from Brazil. “We will be leaving as soon as we have our passports in hand.”
The 33-year-old social worker has said she brought her daughter, Ava, to Brazil in May so the girl could reconnect with her father. But family said she changed her plans after landing in Brazil, because she got a phone call from a friend warning that the father planned to keep the little girl.
A lawyer for the father, 32-year-old Donizete Machado, disputed that he wanted custody of the 6-year-old. The attorney, Isabel Feijo, said last week that her client asked authorities to seize the two passports because Hadden hadn’t let him visit with Ava.
The lawyer also claimed Hadden used airline tickets Machado paid for to fly over and meet a boyfriend.
Hadden’s mother, Linda, has called that claim ridiculous. She said Wednesday that her daughter offered to pay all expenses so Machado could come see Ava in the city where the mother and daughter were staying in Brazil, but he never agreed to the visit.
Linda Hadden said her daughter and granddaughter now hope to get their passports back Thursday and be home in Agawam, Massachusetts, this weekend. She’s pleased Ava will get to go to summer camp and will be able to start first grade as planned in the fall.
“It’s certainly been a nightmare, but we’re glad it’s working out,” she said.
The family had turned to Massachusetts politicians and State Department officials for help, and Shauna Hadden also started a Facebook page called “Trapped in Brazil” to call attention to the case.
The mother, who works for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, got full custody of her daughter when she and Machado divorced in 2009.
Feijo said Wednesday that her client became resigned to letting his daughter and ex-wife return to the United States, “because he feels this is the beginning of a process that in the near future could guarantee him the right to visit his daughter.”
The attorney also said the judge believed the passports had been kept too long and “that the mother’s right to custody is stronger than the father’s right to visit with his daughter.”
Shauna Hadden said Wednesday that she doesn’t want her daughter to carry anger or hatred toward Machado, so she has tried to keep details of what’s been happening from the child during the last several weeks.
“I tell Ava that her father loves her very much,” the mother said.
It’s common in Brazil for officials to confiscate the passports of parents if a judge feels there is a chance that a parent may try to take a child out of the country without permission.
The case wasn’t the first time in recent years that parents in Brazil and the United States became embroiled in a custody dispute that attracted international attention.
In 2009, a New Jersey father returned to the United States with his 9-year-old son after a five-year battle to get him back. The boy’s mother had brought him to South America for what was supposed to be a vacation before she stayed in Brazil with her son, divorced her husband and remarried. The boy’s father won back custody from his son’s Brazilian stepfather.
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.