Austell man in Costa Rica for custody battle
by Marcus E. Howard
mhoward@mdjonline.com
April 27, 2012 12:00 AM | 2769 views | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AUSTELL – An Austell man is in Costa Rica today fighting for custody of his two young daughters, who were taken by his estranged wife to the Central American country.

Christopher Camacho will likely learn whether or not he will be able to take his daughters back home to Austell or if his wife, Lucrecia Ramirez Camacho, will be allowed to keep them in Costa Rica. Christopher and his attorney argue that Lucrecia abducted the girls while visting her native country, against her husband’s will.

At around 11 a.m. EDT, a local judge in Costa Rica’s capital of San José will hear the case, which has attracted the U.S. Department of State. A local consulate official is scheduled to attend the hearing.

This week, Christopher, 45, was allowed to see his daughters for one hour each day. It’s the first time in 11 months that he has seen them.

“Emotional,” was his description of the reunion during a conversation Thursday via phone with the Journal.

“It was good to see them, hear them, talk to them, hug them and kiss them. They’re very much daddy’s girls. I was a real involved dad, so not having them around has been trying.”

According to documents filed in Cobb Superior Court, Lucrecia told her husband that she was taking their two daughters for a three week vacation to Costa Rica. She and the girls left on June 2, 2011. While in Costa Rica, she informed her husband during a phone conversation that she did not intend to return back with the girls to the United States.

Christopher said the news came as a complete shock to him.

“She said she needed more time, and more time became a month, and then the summer, and she said she was going to be back when she needed to be back at her job in August; then it was when school started, and then it was Thanksgiving,” he said.

“She finally flat out told me that she had no interest in remaining married any longer. That she didn’t see her and I as a couple continuing.”

In January 2000, Christopher and Lucrecia met through a mutual friend at a party for him in Vinings. They hit it off and she moved into his apartment a few months later. They married on Oct. 11, 2000. They had two daughters, Isabella Camacho, 10, and Elena Camacho, 6, who were raised in the family’s home in Austell, attending Imagine International Academy of Mableton and Vinings Creative Learning Center, respectively.

“She seemed to have all of the qualities I was looking for in terms of her background and she seemed to have come from a good family,” said Christopher, a software sales representative. “I fell in love with her.”

Lecrecia, 36, became an American citizen about five or six years ago. She worked part-time at a preschool and occasionally taught cake decorating. It was not unusual for her to return home to Costa Rica with the girls during summer breaks, her husband said. He had only visited the country once with his family, four or five years ago.

Last November, Christopher filed a petition for return of the children and a complaint for divorce in Cobb Superior Court. In December, Superior Court Judge George Kreeger granted him temporary custody, citing that it was in the children’s best interest that they be returned home in Austell, where they’ve resided all of their lives.

But since the girls are presently in Costa Rica, it is there where the matter will mostly likely be decided.

Representing Christopher is Michael Manely, an Atlanta-based international family law attorney, who said the case comes down to the issue of habitual residency, under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

“Generally speaking, what it means is before the retention, where were the little girls living?” said Manely, who has tried custody cases across the world. “The Convention says if the abduction occurred within the year of filing under the Convention, then it is mandatory that the court return the children.”

Manley said State Department officials have taken an interest in the case because they’ve been critical of Costa Rica for not following the letter of the law.

Manley is also arguing that the issue of custody shouldn’t even be decided in Costa Rica. In the U.S., treaties, as well as the Constitution, override federal and state legislation, but not in Costa Rica, he said.

“They put the Hague Convention on the same level as their federal legislation and one of the things that this judge is required to do is look at the best interest of the children,” he said.

“Even if we were going to look at this as a best interest test, it still makes sense to send (the children) home. No. 1 because we only have a temporary – we intentionally did not take a final. The issue of custody has yet to be decided and where better to decide that then where all of the witnesses are, the teachers, doctors and their friends.”

In his many years of trying such international cases, Manley said the children have always come home with his clients.

Christopher said he did all he could to find a solution, including arranging for bilingual marriage counseling in the U.S. or Costa Rica, but his wife wasn’t interested. However, he said he has yet to mentally prepare himself in the event the judge denies his request to return his daughters home with him.

“This is not about me taking the kids away from her,” he said.

“I would not want to deprive my children of their mom. This about returning the kids to their only home they’ve ever known. If she wants to come back and work something out custody wise that’s equitable and fair to everyone involved – where the kids can have both parents in their lives – then I’m O.K. with that.”

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