Another child custody case spawns a protest in public

Supporters of Honduran mother display signs and a banner at the legislature Tuesday. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica

A Honduran mother carried her effort to recover her children to the Asamblea Legislativa Tuesday.

She is one of several mothers who have been battered by the judicial system here and elsewhere during a custody dispute.

In this case the woman is Osiris Anarda Villatoro Villalobos. She married a Costa Rican man and had two sons, Abner, now 8, and Enann, 4.

While she was discussing her case with legislative leaders, friends were outside the legislative complex carrying signs with masks over their mouths demanding justice.

With expats, the foreigner usually is the husband here or a father left in another country when the mother flees to Costa Rica. The courts here have not shown a clear understanding of an international convention that designates a jurisdiction for solving custody disputes.

Ms. Anarda, in a written statement, says she was handcuffed when she returned to Costa Rica from Honduras in the company of her two children in January. That is similar to the experience of a Costa Rican woman who also was handcuffed at Juan Santamaría airport in a similar case.

In the Anarda case, the husband obtained an order from a Costa Rican judge ordering the children back to Costa Rica, said the statement. She also said that the children had been taken from Costa Rica legally and with the permission of the husband.

A prosecutor in Goicoechea alleged that she abducted the children, her friends said. Although she eventually obtained physical custody of the children, the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, removed the children and placed them with the parental grandparents a short time later. That was Jan. 24.

Ms. Anarda said that the agency acted without any evaluation or investigation and that the Juzgado de Familia in San José never heard her side nor sent her any notification of any hearing. The family courts generate many complaints of unfairness.

The case also is wrapped up in claims of abuse, domestic violence and abandonment. The woman’s husband was not at the legislature to give his side. However, the Fundación Defensoría de Derechos Humanos Costa Rica seems to have accepted her case. The mother probably faces years of litigation.

Legislators probably cannot do much to interfere with the court system. But they can consider changes in the law if they believe an injustice has been committed. For expats the lesson is clear: A custody case can quickly become an expensive, soul tearing tragedy.

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