For most Americans, a trip to Italy would mean a romantic getaway. But for Michael McCarty, who has made about a dozen trips to Italy over the past two years, his latest trek was anything but an escape.
That's because he was desperately trying to bring back what means the most to him in the world: his 8-year-old son, Liam. McCarty's ex-wife, Manuela McCarty, took Liam to her native country more than two years ago, and he's been fighting to get Liam back ever since.
McCarty recently made yet another trip to Italy to visit his son, whom he hadn't seen in months. Though he knew that he couldn't win custody on this trip, McCarty still had high hopes for the scheduled visit.
But these hopes were quickly dashed.
McCarty said there were about a dozen security guards and a throng of Italian reporters present during the visit. Also present were Liam's mother and grandmother, both visibly upset and disruptive, according to McCarty.
"The mother was there screaming, the grandmother was there screaming," he said. "In the middle of that was my son."
Perhaps worst of all, when McCarty finally caught a glimpse of Liam, the son he's been working so hard to get back, he did not exactly come running with open arms.
"He yelled at me, [saying] that I was a bad person and walked back inside. It was … you know I just don't know why they are doing this to him," said the distraught McCarty during the trip.
McCarty told "GMA" today that he learned from recent documents that his son had been kept up all night before the visit.
Liam's reaction is "not surprising under the circumstances … the pressures that are being put upon him," he said. "He's being shuttled around from place to place, he does not know whom to trust."
McCarty said that the Italian courts are aware that "there's a problem."
"It's very clear to them at this point he's traumatized," he said.
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Michael McCarty's nightmare began more than two years ago. On March 5, 2007, he received the phone call that every parent dreads: Liam was no longer at his school in New York City.
His son was halfway around the world. Boldly defying a court order, his mother, Manuela McCarty, had taken Liam, then 5 years old, back to her native Italy.
The case would grow only more complicated -- and more nightmarish -- for McCarty when his ex-wife Manuela was ruled an unfit parent by an Italian court.
After this ruling, Liam, who is an American citizen, was placed in the custody of an Italian orphanage, even though his father was alive, well and had legal custody of his son.
Now father and son are entangled in a legal quagmire that involves several courts in what Michael McCarty said is Italy's "archaic, insane, Kafka-esque" legal system.
Currently, there are three cases pending related to Liam, dealing with both custody and custodial rights: one in Rome's juvenile court, one in the appellate court and one in the Supreme Court.
The case is further complicated by the fact that Liam was born in Italy and has dual citizenship there and in the United States, and that McCarty did not have formal final custody of Liam until after Manuela fled to Italy with him.
Historically, getting a child out of a foreign country is difficult, especially if one parent is a citizen of that country.