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GA High Court Rules State Law Applies in Global Custody Battle

The central facts of the controversy are enough to give virtually any law school student in a choice-of-law class nightmares. Moreover, they point decidedly to the wisdom of securing experienced family law counsel in any instance where a child custody dispute becomes complex and features the competing laws of multiple jurisdictions.

Many Georgia residents may already be somewhat familiar with the case, as it has received prominent media coverage since the moment a professor at the University of Georgia left her husband in Athens in 2007, taking the couple's young son back to her native Italy and filing for divorce there.

A judicial mess ensured thereafter. The husband, Robert Shelton Bellew, filed a complaint with the Italian government, claiming that his son was illegally abducted. Bellew further filed for divorce in Georgia and was awarded temporary custody of the child by a state Superior Court judge.

That all went out the window when an Italian court subsequently ruled that Italian law trumped Georgia law regarding child custody matters. Based on that, the Georgia Superior court reversed its earlier ruling, stating that Italy had jurisdiction.

Not so, say justices of the Georgia Supreme Court, with Justice P. Harris Hines writing in February that the Italian court "undertook no analysis of the home state of the child." The Court ruled that the custody matter must by law be decided pursuant to the Georgia Uniform Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, which holds that only a child's home state can decide a custody issue. In the dispute between Bellew and his ex-wife, Silvia Larese, that state is Georgia.

An experienced and diligent family law attorney can make a material difference in any child custody case, especially one - such as this one - that is characterized by complex and sensitive issues.

Related Resource: www.onlineathens.com "Custody dispute to be decided in Georgia" February 8, 2011

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