ACT News

Canberra mother 'forum shopped' for a quick divorce in the United States

A Colorado district judge found the Canberra woman lacked credibility.
A Colorado district judge found the Canberra woman lacked credibility. 

A Canberra mother who "forum shopped" for a divorce in the United States was ordered to return to Australia with her children earlier this year.

A Colorado district judge, in June, found the woman  lacked credibility and had created documents in a "set-up" to win a speedy divorce.

A second judge then ordered her return the children to Australia under international child abduction laws.

The family has since returned to Australia and is fighting a legal battle in the Federal Circuit Court.

Court documents said the family went to the United States for the mother's work and a holiday in August last year.

The father returned to Canberra in September expecting his children to return soon after, but the mother delayed the homecoming.

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Court papers said the mother considered taking a short-term job in the United States, but the father wanted the children to come home in time for the start of school in February.

In December, he discovered the woman  had started a relationship with a US citizen and he demanded the children's return.

The mother then moved to Colorado and filed for divorce, while the father sought orders, under the Hague Convention, to have the children returned to Australia.

She opposed his application on two grounds, arguing he had consented to the children's removal and that they would be exposed to harm – in the form of domestic violence – if they moved back to Canberra.

The mother alleged a number of instances of violence and neglect by the father.

He denied the allegations.

In court, the woman conceded she had never contacted the police or child protection, or sought medical attention as a result of the alleged incidents.

The court found the woman had not proven that the father had consented to the children staying in the United States, or that they faced a grave risk if returned.

In making the findings, the judge noted that, despite the allegations, the woman  had left the children alone with their father a number of times during the family holiday.

"Such conduct is simply inconsistent with [her] allegations that she had witnessed numerous instances of [the father] being physically abusive to the children in the past year," the decision said.

The judge ordered the woman pay the father's legal costs.

In a separate decision, the divorce application was thrown out because the woman had not lived in Colorado for the required 91 days before lodging paperwork.

The judge also rejected evidence put before the court, including details of house hunting and an alleged business venture.

"The court does not find the petitioner to be credible. I think this based on the evidence she presented herself today. It appears to be more of a set-up. It hurts her credibility," the judge wrote.

The judge said that the case made it clear the mother wanted a divorce and that she had thought about a split for some time.

"[The] petitioner came to this country and decided 'now's the time,' and she didn't really convey that to respondent in any way that respondent understood.

"The petitioner testified that she could have pursued a divorce in Australia or California. I think she forum shopped to get a divorce in a hurry."