BOSTON — Police in Brazil have seized passports belonging to a woman and her 6-year-old daughter, stranding them in South America for more than a month in an international custody dispute with the child’s father.
Thirty-three-year-old Shauna Hadden and her daughter, Ava Machado, have been in Brazil since late May, when they began a trip Hadden said was intended to connect the girl with the father she hadn’t seen in more than three years.
Hadden’s mother, Linda, said Friday the pair had already arrived in Rio de Janiero on her way to visit Ava’s father, 32-year-old Donizete Machado, when her daughter received a phone call from a mutual friend warning her that Machado planned to keep the girl.
Instead of taking a flight to southern Brazil to meet Machado, Shauna Hadden and her daughter flew north to stay with friends in the northeastern city of Fortaleza.
Then in early June federal police came to them with a court order and took both passports. Ava’s maternal grandmother said her daughter gave up the travel documents because she was scared Brazilian authorities were going to take the girl.
On Friday, a lawyer for Machado confirmed the passports were confiscated following a request by the girl’s father.
Attorney Isabel Feijo said Machado does not want custody of the girl — Hadden, a Massachusetts Department of Children and Families employee, was granted full custody following their 2009 divorce — but sought seizure of their passports because Hadden skipped his scheduled meeting with Ava.
“He wants her to visit him and his family, and if the mother agrees to that, the request to seize the passport will immediately be withdrawn, we’ll drop the case,” Feijo said Friday.
Feijo said Hadden — using tickets purchased by her ex-husband — arrived in Rio de Janeiro on May 21 and was supposed to meet Machado in the city of Florianopolis before traveling together to the town of Criciuma, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) to the southeast.
Feijo said mother and daughter were scheduled to return to the U.S. on June 11. When Hadden and Ava had not met with Machado by June 8, the lawyer filed the request to block them from leaving Brazil.
Feijo alleged Hadden never intended to make the trip to see her ex and instead planned to meet a man she’d met online. Hadden’s family called that claim ridiculous.
Machado, who works as a house painter, had been expelled from the U.S. because he entered the country illegally through Mexico, his attorney confirmed.
Alessandro Saraiva, a Brazilian federal court spokesman, said he couldn’t provide details because the case involves a minor and falls under secrecy laws. Brazil’s federal police declined to comment. The U.S. Embassy in Brasilia would confirm only that Hadden is in Fortaleza and is receiving consular services.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Richard Neal, both of Massachusetts, say they’ve been trying to intervene in an effort to get mother and daughter back to the United States.
It’s common in Brazil for officials to confiscate the passports of parents if a judge feels there is a chance that a mother or father may try to take a child out of the country without the other parent’s permission. One such case attracted international attention.
In 2009, a five-year custody battle involving a boy with family in New Jersey and Brazil ended with the 9-year-old Sean Goldman’s return to the United States with his father David Goldman.
The case had pitted David Goldman against his son’s Brazilian stepfather, who had cared for the boy after his mother died in childbirth. The boy’s mother had brought him to her native Brazil for what was supposed to be a vacation, but she stayed before divorcing her son’s father and remarrying. The boy’s stepfather had temporary custody of him, before the conclusion of a case that strained relations between Brazil and the United States.
When the boy’s handover was blocked shortly before the custody dispute ended, the U.S. Senate put a hold on a trade deal worth about $2.75 billion a year to Brazil. The dispute prompted high-level discussions involving President Barack Obama and his then-counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Shauna Hadden has a Facebook page called “Trapped in Brazil” that she is updating as she waits for the case to be resolved.
In an email to The Associated Press on Friday, she said she and her daughter are stressed and want to come home.
“Ava is tired and having a hard time,” she said.