When custody battles span borders, the fight can be agonizing


January 4, 2016

Source: Naples News 

Bernabela Gonzalez had her 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter taken from her by the children’s father in 2014 while she was fighting for custody. Gonzalez is brought to tears while among some of her children’s belongings in her Immokalee home on Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. She has not seen her children in almost two years and doesn’t know where their father is keeping them.

Bernabela Gonzalez

The toys and clothes belonging to Bernabela Gonzalez’s 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter remain packed in two boxes, out of sight for nearly two years because it’s too painful for her to see them.

The father, Angel Luis Roblero, took Eddie and Ashley to Mexico without notice as Gonzalez was fighting for custody in the spring of 2014. A Mexican court in her hometown of Motozintla ordered the children’s father to hand them over to Gonazlez’ relatives so they could then be sent back to Immokalee, she said. When relatives went to make good on the judge’s order, the father and the children were gone.

That was in November. There is still no sign of Roblero, Eddie and Ashley.

“I don’t know what to do,” Gonzalez said. “Something has to be done.”

The case of Gonzalez’ missing children is one of more than 500 similar international child abduction cases reported in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of State. Mexico is the leading destination where children are believed to have been taken after abduction, with 170 reported cases there. Less than half of the cases pending in 2014 of children taken to Mexico were resolved that year, and the average time taken to find an abducted child in Mexico is 284 days.

Gonzalez continues to search for her children, in hopes they will be home soon.

Recover_Abducted_Child_Mexico

The story of her children’s abduction, which began years ago, highlights how painful domestic problems can erupt into hostile international battles. It’s difficult enough for families to work out differences in the U.S. courts. For Gonzalez, the fight across international borders to bring her children home has been agonizing.

“There’s not a single day that goes by when I don’t cry for them,” she said.

A DIFFICULT LIFE

About 11 years ago, Gonzalez and Roblero settled in the small northeast Alabama town of Albertville. They left their lives in Mexico to work in a chicken processing plant. They lived together, with his family, in a rented trailer. Together, they had two children, first Eddie and then Ashley.

Life together was never easy.

“Throughout the relationship of the parties, the Plaintiff (Roblero) has committed acts of domestic violence on the Defendant (Gonzalez), such that the Defendant feared for her life and for the lives of the minor children,” says a court document filed by Gonzalez´ attorney in the Alabama custody case.

child parental kidnapping

Gonzalez said she realized that the family could no longer stay together, so in the summer of 2013 she took the children to live in Immokalee. She didn’t discuss it with Roblero, fearing he wouldn’t let her take the children with her. So she decided to explain her reasons in a letter she left behind.

Attempts to reach Roblero for comment failed, and his attorney, John H. Ufford, II, declined to comment as well.

Roblero, in an affidavit, said Gonzalez secretly left with the children with no good reason. Roblero said Gonzalez only called him once in July 2013, and refused to tell him where she and the children were living, or allow him to see them.

But Gonzalez said that’s not true, arguing later in court filings that she spoke to Roblero four times in August 2013 and that she “tried diligently to resolve any issues with the Plaintiff, but at that time, the Plaintiff threatened the Defendant so that the Defendant feared for her life and for the lives of the children should she return to Alabama.”

Child Abduction Alabama

Roblero argued in an August 2013 complaint filed in Marshall County, Alabama, that he was not able to locate his children. The Alabama judge awarded him full custody of the children, and granted Gonzalez visitation from 1 to 5 p.m. every other Saturday.

Roblero, in court filings, said he was later able to find Gonzalez in Immokalee only by luck. But her attorney would later argue that he could have known where the children were after the boy’s Collier school requested records from his Alabama school. The request came two weeks before Roblero filed his petition for full custody in Alabama.

Roblero had access to the school information and could have served Gonzalez with the judge’s order, her lawyer argued in filings.

The judge’s November order granting Roblero custody required both parents to keep the other updated with their addresses.

A COURT ORDER

When the Collier deputies knocked on her trailer door, they had an order from a Florida judge to take the children to their father.

Gonzalez says that day she was unable to pack many of their belongings before they were taken away.

“I felt as if I was going to faint,” she said.

Her daughter was sleeping. Her son, she says, didn’t want to go with Roblero and the deputies.

“I told my son, ‘I can´t do anything. He has to take you, but I’m going to fight back,’ ” she said.

A deputy told her to take the kids to the patrol car, she said, but she couldn’t.

“Then, he entered, his father,” Gonzalez said. “He picked the girl and took her, and he also took the boy,” she said.

Gonzalez said she held back her tears because she didn’t want to cry in front of the children.

“I held up and said, ‘It’s fine, go my son. We’ll speak later.’ And he went.”

The meal she had cooked that day for the children ended up in the trash.

A LONG BATTLE

Gonzalez started her fight for the children by searching for a lawyer in Naples. But she later learned she would need a lawyer to represent her in the Alabama court.

After an Alabama court hearing in May, the judge ruled that the children must remain in Marshall County and neither parent could move them. He granted visitation for both parents.

After the hearing, Gonzalez went to Roblero’s home to visit with the children, but she was told they weren’t there.

Her lawyer, Jacqueline O. Morrette, reached out to the father’s lawyer, even sending an email trying to locate the children for Gonzalez.

“I realize that this is a holiday weekend, but my client has been told by your client’s brother that (Roblero) has fled the area with the minor children,” the email reads.

The attorney didn’t respond, Morrette said in a court filing.

On Monday, Gonzalez called her brother in Mexico, who told her Roblero and their children were in her hometown in that country, the motion says.

“Upon information and belief, the Plaintiff has failed to (allow reasonable visitation for the children) and has not only failed to abide by the Order, but also has fled the country to escape the pending litigation,” the motion says.

The Alabama judge awarded Gonzalez sole custody of the children in August 2014.

The U.S. Department of States’ Office of Children’s Issues, which helps parents whose kids have been abducted and taken from the country, opened a file for her children and helped her with a request to Mexican authorities to hand her children to her family there.

Mexico Abducted Children

The case is now in the hands of the judge in Mexico, Gonzalez said. At a court hearing in November, Gonzalez’ brother and niece were told they could pick up her children. Karl Glander, service director of Immokalee Amigos Center was ready to travel to Mexico and bring them to the U.S.

But once again Roblero and the children were gone. Roblero’s father told them, Gonzalez said, that he had left and traveled to the U.S. to return the children to her. But, Gonzalez said, she doesn’t think Roblero can legally travel to the U.S.

There is no new information on the whereabouts of Roblero and the two children. Gonzalez said she is worried. She said her son’s friends keep asking about him. She said she remembers how much her daughter loved dressing in Dora doll clothes. She misses taking them to the park, taking her son to the library so he could check out scary books or stories of adventure.

Since the children were taken from her, she says, she hasn’t gotten out much.

“Every place reminds me of my children,” she said.

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