Massachusetts Mother Trapped in Custody Battle in Brazil Fears She'll Be Jailed

Woman has forfeited her passport as the legal battle for her daughter unfolds.

ByGio Benitez and Geetika Rudra
July 05, 2013, 5:20 AM

July 5, 2013 — -- A Massachusetts mother who says she's trapped in Brazil while her ex-husband seeks custody of their daughter fears she could be thrown in prison after she forfeited her passport to authorities.

Shauna Hadden, 33, of Agawam, Mass., took daughter Ava, 6, to Brazil May 21 to visit the girl's father, Donizete Machado, whom Hadden divorced in 2009. When the mother and daughter arrived, Hadden says, her ex-husband went to court to get custody of Ava.

Although he was denied custody, a Brazilian judge ordered Ava's passport confiscated, Hadden said, adding that she surrendered hers as well when police came to her door.

"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 News in a Skype interview.

Mass. Mother Trapped in Brazil Over Custody Dispute Trying to Come Home. Read more here.

Hadden, who has full custody of her daughter, said she planned a three-week trip to the South American country with Ava so the girl could meet her extended family and learn more about her cultural heritage.

"I was trying to do the right thing, what I thought was the right thing for Ava, and he hadn't seen her in four years," Hadden said.

When the two arrived in Brazil, "Shauna got a call from a man who lived in Machado's town telling her not to come," Shauna's mother, Linda Hadden, told ABC News. "Her ex-husband was planning to take Ava from her."

So instead of traveling to see Machado, Hadden says she chose to go north and stay with friends.

"That's when Machado got angry," Linda Hadden said. "He and his sisters started sending my daughter nasty messages, saying things like, 'You're going to have to stay in Brazil forever.' So Shauna decided to take her return flight home."

But Machado, who had bought the plane tickets, cancelled them when Hadden arrived in Brazil, she said.

The Brazilian judge has ruled that Machado is allowed a supervised visit with Ava no later than today, Hadden says.

Machado and his attorneys have not responded to requests for comment.

Now, more than a month after the mother and daughter arrived in Brazil, the U.S. State Department has not been able to get Hadden and Ava out of Brazil, saying in a statement, "the department will continue to monitor the case closely."

Hadden says her travel visa expires Aug. 21. She has no sense of when she will be getting her and her daughter's passports back.

"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."

Back home in the United States, Hadden's family says that they are worried sick.

"We are all very concerned," her mother said. "The only comforting thoughts for my whole family are that she is staying with a wonderful family, and we get to Skype with her at night, so they are safe and they are fed."

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., are calling for the mother and child's return.

"[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," Neal said.

While speaking with ABC News via Skype, Ava said she's sad and wants to come home. At one point,interrupting her mom, she said of her father, "Mommy, he is being mean to us."

Hadden said her daughter just wants to go home.

"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.

"She is used to a very different lifestyle. It is very hard to keep her happy and to keep her entertained. She is clearly suffering and it is very hard to watch."

Hadden has been gathering support on Facebook and in the media. Her Facebook page, "Trapped in Brazil," has more than 2,700 likes.

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