British mum wins custody battle after eight years

The mother of a girl involved in an eight-year custody battle has spoken of her joy after she and her daughter were allowed to return to Britain from Israel.

She said the emotional and financial strain put on her family by the case, whose legal bills total more than £250,000, had been "absolutely horrendous".

The woman, who is in her late 30s and cannot be identified for legal reasons, left Israel with her one-year-old daughter in 2001 after the breakdown of her marriage to a man she met while living on kibbutz.

But after she returned to Britain, her ex-husband launched an international child abduction case under the Hague Convention.

It still does not feel real to be back at home

A number of court cases followed in London, and the girl was ordered to return to Israel in July 2002. Israeli courts ordered she must stay in the country and maintain contact with her father.

Her grandfather, aged over 70, has spent the past eight years funding the fight for his daughter and granddaughter to return home to start a new life.

Last month clearance was finally received for the pair to leave Israel, albeit under strict conditions. The mother explained: "My ex-husband refused to give me a get for many years before relenting. He was not a hands-on father. There was no wider family in Israel and it would have been impossible for me to leave my daughter there with him, not that I would have done that anyway.

"We had to carry on with day-to-day life. We had friends and she was going to school. I had to bring up my daughter and look after her but all the time I was talking to the lawyers, often daily. It was very unsettling."

Lengthy court cases in Israel followed as the family tried to resolve the legal battle.

The girl, now aged 10, must return to Israel to visit her father four times a year until she is 18. The family must also pay for her father to visit her in Britain once a year.

This final agreement alone has cost the family more than £50,000 this year in court bonds and legal fees.

The mother said: "It did not feel like a real goodbye when we left Israel because we will still be going back. Until the last minute of leaving there was so much tension.

"It still does not feel real to be back home. Until my daughter starts school here then it will not really dawn on me.

"Although she is a very happy girl and was fine in Israel we always had the feeling we wanted to be back here with our family.

"It has been absolutely horrendous, particularly with the financial aspects of it. I'm immensely grateful to my parents."

The grandfather said: "You hear a lot about agunot, but in a case like this it's the state which is chaining people. My daughter felt like she was in a prison.

"People do not quite understand the Israeli family court system. There's a lot of women in Israel from America or Europe who want to go back to their home countries and do not realise how difficult it is.

"My wife and I went to visit every few weeks for long weekends to give them support, but it was an immense strain on the whole family.

"They are trying to carve out a new life for themselves here. But at the back of our minds the whole time is what happens if they put a foot wrong at any time."

The family now hopes to continue the legal fight in an attempt to overturn the visitation ruling made by the Israeli courts.

Last updated: 9:05am, September 3 2010