Belfast Telegraph

Father loses custody fight with US wife

By Alan Erwin

A heavy-drinking Londonderry man has failed in a legal bid to stop his ex-wife taking their eight-year-old daughter to live in the United States.

The High Court granted the girl's mother permission to relocate to her family home in Nashville, Tennessee, amid concerns about the level of neglect while in her father's care.

Medical records showed he had an alcohol consumption of 140 units a week.

A judge also identified a five-month period when the man failed to turn up for contact visits with his daughter.

Master Wells held it was in the girl's best interests for her to move to America once the school year finishes in June.

Neither parent can be named to ensure their child's identity is protected.

In a custody battle, the father, Y, and mother, Z, separately sought residence orders for their daughter.

Y also wanted a prohibition on his ex-wife taking the girl, identified only as X, out of Northern Ireland.

The former couple met in Pittsburgh, USA, in 2003 and married a year later, months before their daughter was born.

Although by 2006 their relationship was over they both moved back to Ireland with X.

The girl spent three years in her father's care before going to her mother, with whom she currently lives in Belfast.

Concerns were also raised over the girl's development and hygiene in the years she lived with her father.

During a pre-arranged visit in 2009 she told a social worker though a locked front door: “Daddy can't get up, daddy won't get up.”

Access was eventually gained to a house strewn with rubbish, piles of clothes, plastic bags and an empty beer box, the court heard.

Concerns highlighted included poor supervision of his daughter and being sound asleep in the middle of the afternoon while she was left unattended with matches, lighters and access to knives.

“Had X hurt herself and cried out he would not have awoken as the doorbell nor X's attempts could awake him at the time,” Master Wells noted.

At one stage Z temporarily moved into her ex-husband's home in Derry following a failed restaurant business venture.

She then left for a Women's Aid shelter in Belfast, taking their daughter with her, after a serious domestic violence incident.

Her ex-husband later pleaded guilty to assault.

The girl's basic needs were held to have been adequately met in the three years spent in her mother's full-time care.

The previous three years had involved numerous and sustained concerns about neglect.

With Z compelled to return to the US once her visa expires in November, Master Wells said refusing her application would have a “catastrophic” impact.

The woman consented to bringing X back to Ireland every two years to see her father.

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