Fighting for Liam: Michael McCarty's Crusade to Bring Son Home

Amidst custody dispute, Michael McCarty's son Liam is in an Italian orphanage.

August 12, 2009, 12:04 AM

Aug. 12, 2009— -- Home videos show 5-year-old Liam McCarty horsing around with his father, his blond curls bouncing around a cherubic face.

It's a face his father, Michael McCarty, hasn't seen in months.

Liam, an American citizen, was placed into the custody of an Italian orphanage this spring after his mother, Manuela McCarty, fled to her native Italy with the child in the middle of a custody dispute with Michael McCarty.

Yet shortly after arriving, a court reportedly ruled that she was an unfit parent and Liam was put into an orphanage instead of being returned to his father. Now father and son are stuck in a tangled legal battle that involves several courts in what Michael McCarty said is an "archaeic" system.

"The last time I saw him was a few months ago and he's not doing very well," McCarty told "Good Morning America's" Chris Cuomo today. "He has deteroiated."

McCarty said he's concerned not only with getting his son back on American soil, but about his mental condition and the stress of not knowing anyone he can trust.

"That happy little boy that you saw … has changed," he said. "He has been traumatized by this experience. You can only imagine what it might be like for a 5-year-old child to be torn away from everything he knows."

It was on March 5, 2007, that McCarty's life was changed forever. He received a phone call that every parent dreads -- Liam was no longer at school in New York City.

McCarty later learned his son was halfway around the world. The ensuing legal battle has been characterized by postponements and non-resolution in Italy's court system.

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. Currently they are all in adjournment with no dates set for the next hearing.

The case is complicated by the fact that Liam was born in Italy and has dual citizenship there and in the U.S., and McCarty did not have formal final custody of Liam until after Manuela fled to Italy with him.

'Good Days and Bad Days' for Michael McCarty

McCarty's lawyer Philip Segal said they have an FBI warrant for Manuela McCarty's arrest and the Hague Convention on their side. But the courts don't seem to want to acknowledge either, he said.

"They say everything and they say nothing. They conduct endless additional legal proceedings," Segal said, adding that he wants Liam's mother extradited according to the FBI warrant. "You never get a straight answer."

McCarty, who has been to Italy 8 times trying to get his son back, said he's not even sure where his son is right now, given that much of Italy shuts down for the month of August.

"There are good days, there are bad days. You just get through it," he said. "It's not about how I'm doing. It's about how Liam's doing. Every day I'm worried about his safety."

Getting a child out of a foreign country is difficult, especially if one parent is a citizen of that country.

David Goldman has been fighting to bring his son home for more than five years. His ex-wife Bruna Bianchi took their son Sean on a planned vacation to her native Brazil and never returned.

Instead, she remarried, but died in 2008 during childbirth. Sean's stepfather has been petitioning the courts to keep Sean, now 9 years old, in Brazil, while Goldman has been accusing him of trying to turn Sean against hm.

"I'm going to keep the fight like I always have," Goldman told "Good Morning America" in June. "There's only one choice and that's to keep going until my son comes home."

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