Check out this surreal custody battle going on in Brazil right now.
U.S. citizen Shauna Hadden and Brazilian resident Donizete Machado got married a few years back but divorced in 2009. They have a six-year-old daughter, Ava, from their marriage.
Hadden decided she wanted to take her daughter to Brazil to learn about her heritage and culture from her father’s side. They arrived in Brazil in May earlier this year. When Hadden arrived, she got a call from a man from her ex-husband's town telling her not to come there, saying Machado was planning to take Ava from her mother.
It looks like the warning was right.
Machado immediately filed to gain custody of Ava. He cancelled the mother and daughter’s tickets, and sent them text messages saying “You’re going to have to stay in Brazil forever.”
The Brazilian judge denied Machado’s custody request, but he also ordered for Ava’s passport to be confiscated. Sure enough, Brazilian police showed up at Hadden’s door and demanded Ava’s passport. Hadden turned over her passport as well.
Now the mother and daughter are stuck in Brazil without documentation, caught in a custody battle with no safe way home.
"I have no documents here. I fear to even go in the car because if I get pulled over and I don't have my documents, ultimately they could throw me in prison because I'm undocumented," Hadden told ABC in an interview.
Her travel visa expires on August 21st. The U.S. State Department is aware of the case but has not been able to remedy the situation yet. They released a generic message saying “the department will continue to monitor the case closely.”
Hadden has no clue when she will be allowed to leave the country.
"I have no time frame," she said. "I have no idea. The judge has to order it. The judge said he was not going to give us our passports back, because he knows that we will leave if he gives them back."
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Richard Neal are working with officials in order to return the mother and daughter back to the states. Hadden says her daughter is not doing well with the stressful situation.
"She misses her family, she really misses her dog, Lola. She sleeps a lot, she cries a lot, she doesn't enjoy the food here," Hadden said. At one point during Hadden’s interview Ava could be heard talking about her father, saying “Mommy, he is being mean to us.”
Until Brazilian legal authorities return Hadden and Ava’s passports, there is nothing they can do. You would think legal authorities from either country could see the injustice happening here, but apparently not. Representative Neal released a brief statement on the issue.
"We intend to pursue this and to make sure, based upon the family's request, that the passports be returned and they have a safe trip back home," he said.