01 December 2005

Ulster mum's US tug of love battle

Belfast Telegraph

Court date with husband for custody of son

By Claire Regan
01 December 2005

An Ulster mother spoke of her anguish today after she was ordered to return to the US to fight her estranged husband in a custody battle over their young son.

Paula Savage and her two-year-old son, Gregory, will have to leave their new home in Castlewellan, Co Down, to go to Tennessee within the next few weeks to face her husband in court.

Ms Savage recently appeared at the High Court in Belfast where an order was served under the Hague Convention for her to return to the US with her son. Her estranged husband, who has not seen Gregory in over a year, successfully applied for the case to be dealt with in the state of Tennessee.

The Hague Convention is an international legal agreement in which a parent can apply to have a child returned to a country in which he or she has been resident if they believe the child has been wrongly removed. It was the same law which forced Londonderry woman Cara Gunn to return to the US to fight a custody battle with her ex-husband Bobby in 2003.

Ms Savage (35), lived with her husband in Florida up until October of last year when she returned to her native Castlewellan with Gregory. Her husband, who she does not wish to name, has since moved from Florida to Tennessee. He is seeking full custody of his son.

"I don't want to go into the details of the break-up of our marriage but the situation had got to the stage where I could not go on anymore and I had to leave with Gregory. It was an unhappy time," said the mother-of-two.

"I came back to Castle- wellan just over a year ago. Gregory and I have been settling in well to the area. We enjoy living close to family and friends and getting on with life here."

Ms Savage, who also has a nine-month-old daughter Chloe living with her in Castlewellan, said she is distraught at having to return to the US.

"This is a massive upheaval for us. Gregory has lived in Northern Ireland for almost half his life now and we're very settled here. It's very daunting to have to go back to America and fight for Gregory in court. I don't know how I'm going to do it.

"I will have to pay legal costs and living expenses while we're there. The case could last up to two months and I'm worried this could cost me about £10,000. I am now trying to gather up donations to help."

The young mother's family and friends organised a fund-raiser for her in Savage's bar in Castlewellan last week. The local Ulster Bank branch has also set up an account in the name of 'Paula's Appeal' which donations can be made to.

"The support I have received from the community has been fantastic. I am very grateful to everyone who has helped. I need as much help as I can get to gather up the money to fight this."

SDLP councillor for the area, Eamon O'Neill, said the community's "heart is with Paula".

"I know the community will want to give her all the help and support that they can. I look forward to the matter being dealt with quickly and fairly," he said.

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