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Mass. mom in Brazil: Custody dispute stranded me

Published: Saturday, July 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

BOSTON – Police in Brazil seized passports belonging to a mother and her 6-year-old daughter, stranding them in South America amid an international child custody dispute with the child's father, the woman says.

Shauna Hadden, a 33-year-old social worker from Agawam, Mass., said the trip was meant for her daughter Ava Machado to reconnect with the father she hadn't seen in more than three years. The mother, who works for the state Department of Children and Families, said a Massachusetts court gave her full custody of Ava after the couple's divorce in 2009.

But she and her family said her trip took an unexpected turn while she and her daughter were on the way to visit Ava's father, 32-year-old Donizete Machado. After flying to Rio de Janeiro in late May, Hadden got a phone call from a friend in Brazil who knows both mother and father warning her not to make the last flight to meet Machado, her mother, Linda Hadden, said Friday.

The friend said that Machado had plans to keep Ava and that the two shouldn't make the rest of the trip, for which Machado had already bought the tickets, according to Linda Hadden. Instead of taking a flight to southern Brazil to meet Machado, her daughter and granddaughter flew north to stay with friends in the northeastern city of Fortaleza.

But June 6, federal police came to them with a court order and took both passports, according to Ava's maternal grandmother, who said her daughter gave up the travel documents because she was scared Brazilian authorities were going to take Ava.

A Brazilian judge turned down Machado's request for full custody of Ava but said authorities wouldn't give back the passports until the father had a supervised visit with the child, according to the grandmother.

On Friday, a lawyer for Machado confirmed the passports were confiscated after the father's legal request and said the case would be dropped as soon as the mother agreed to let Ava meet her father.

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.

Besides having no passports, the mother and daughter have been put on a no-fly list by Brazilian authorities, Linda Hadden said.

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.

Lawyer Isabel Feijo also alleged that Hadden never intended to allow the father to meet Ava — and instead left the U.S. planning to travel to the city of Fortaleza to meet a man she met online.

Feijo said Hadden and her former husband had agreed that he would pay for her and Ava's tickets to visit him in the town where he lives in southern Brazil, because he wanted to introduce his daughter to his family and friends.

The lawyer said Hadden agreed to travel with Ava to Brazil and arrived in Rio de Janeiro on May 21. The following day, Feijo said, Hadden was supposed to travel to the city of Florianopolis, where Machado would meet them, and then travel to the town of Criciuma, about 125 miles to the southeast.

"But she never showed up in Florianopolis, because she had already planned with her boyfriend in Fortaleza to go from Rio de Janeiro to Fortaleza in the northeast," said Feijo.

Feijo said that the return flight for Hadden and her daughter was scheduled for June 11. But because Hadden had not met with Machado by June 8, the lawyer filed the legal request that day to block the woman and her daughter from leaving Brazil.

The lawyer said that Feijo does not want custody of the daughter and that he's made that clear.

"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.

She said that eventually, Machado would like to see his daughter once a year. The Brazilian lawyer also confirmed that Machado, who works as a house painter, had been expelled from the U.S. because he entered the country illegally through Mexico.

In an email to The Associated Press on Friday, Shauna Hadden said she and her daughter are stressed and want to come home.

"Ava is tired and having a hard time," she said.

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