A CO. Limerick native awarded full custody of his son by a Bronx court in 2007 is dismayed to find the boy’s Irish American mother, who fled with the child twice in the past, has successfully won the right to contact the boy by telephone twice a week in the U.S.
Donough Lawlor, 38, who lives in Ridgefield, Queens, told the Irish Voice that although he has a standing order of protection against his estranged ex-wife Kathleen Brigit McAuliffe, 36, she may pursue every option available to her to reconnect with Liam Jack Lawlor, 5, the son she has lost custody of.
Lawlor, an electrician by trade who now has boxes of files relating to his son’s case, was dismayed when on October 19 Judge Ira Globerman of the Bronx Supreme Court decided to grant McAuliffe the right to telephone Liam twice a week for 15 minutes. How, Lawlor wonders, can a parent who has lost legal custody of a child still be permitted to call that child twice a week, throwing the boy into continuing turmoil?
Two days after he wrote this decision, Lawlor says, the judge retired.
“If this was a good woman who could handle a child and would care for a child in a stable manner, do you think I would be disputing it?” Lawlor told the Irish Voice.
“It would be great. But I have seen first hand her violence, anger, and her behavior across the board, and I cannot accept this ruling. Any person listening to my ex-wife’s conversations with Liam would say that this person is not right in the head.”
The unexpected ruling by Judge Globerman, coupled with the fact that McAuliffe has to date twice abducted the boy, makes Lawlor worry. The expense of mounting legal defenses is a significant drain on his income, his well-being and his time. But as he sees it, he’s being left with little option but to pursue his rights though the courts.
“I’m standing behind full prosecution as a victim now,” Lawlor says. “I will press charges against my ex-wife for abduction. I will stand up in a court of law and say my son was abducted twice, this is what was inflicted on my son, and I suffered years of emotional upset and anguish as a result of this.
“I suffered the expense and the loss of time, too. These are years that can never be brought back between my son and I. So I’m closing the door on this one. I want it done and finished.”
It had begun so well. Lawlor originally met McAuliffe at a benefit night in the Kilmegan bar in Woodside, Queens in 2004. Their son, Liam Jack Lawlor was born on October 4, 2004.
By July 2005 the couple were married. But by March 23, 2006 they had filed for divorce and had begun custody proceedings against each other.
Lawlor was scheduled to see Liam on July 15, 2006, but his ex-wife Kathleen did not bring him. Worried by her threats to take the boy out of the country, Lawlor put in a request for information to the State Department for information of a passport being obtained for his son.
It was too late. McAuliffe had fled to England with Liam.
The abduction of his son introduced Lawlor to the heartbreaking world of missing and exploited children. He had no idea where the boy was.
In newspapers and magazines he saw images of his own son included among the photographs of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The experience, he says, was shattering.
“There was times I had to take down photographs of Liam on the fridge because I really thought I would never see him again. I went through a stage in my mind where it became very upsetting for me to view them. But I kept chipping away at the block, hoping that someone would give me some information on him, some way of finding him,” says Lawlor.
In May of 2007 Lawlor was granted a divorce from McAuliffe and sole custody of Liam by the Bronx Supreme Court. Later that year a judge ordered that McAuliffe produce Liam, but she ignored the request. Her parents, who live in the Bronx, were informed of each ruling, but McAuliffe’s reaction is unknown. (Attempts to contact McAuliffe before going to press were unsuccessful).
Meanwhile, Lawlor had hired a private detective and was in daily contact with international search organizations as he sought his son. On November 17 he was informed by a case manager at NCMEC who told him that Liam and McAuliffe were living in the U.K.
“My ex-wife is someone who has never bowed down to any form of authority,” says Lawlor. “She has taken Liam and dragged him though a series of new addresses in England, established a whole new life with an Albanian national, and she told Liam that her new partner was now his father.”
Lawlor filed a claim to have Liam returned to the U.S. under a ruling in the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Since the U.S. was the boy’s habitual residence, Lawlor’s representative argued for his son’s return to the jurisdiction. Lawlor’s appeal was granted on July 30, 2009.
Says Lawlor, “When an abducted child is brought back to its habitual residence, it’s original jurisdiction, you have to take all forms of precaution. There are so many laws, both federal and state, and by the time you’re done learning how they can affect you you’re nearly an attorney yourself.”
Lawlor had won full custody of his son, and now he had a ruling mandating the boy’s return to the U.S. McAuliffe, however, made an immediate appeal.
In return for Liam she asked her ex-husband to sign away his right to file any criminal charge against her. He was also asked to pay accommodation charges, to pay for airfare to the U.S. for mother and son, and to provide money for Liam.
Lawlor complied with each of these requests, but on August 3, 2009 McAuliffe did not appear with Liam as agreed. Instead she fled with the boy and her Albanian partner. A British High Court collection order was quickly filed against them, and the couple was eventually discovered in Essex.
Liam was delivered to a relative’s house in London where Lawlor picked him up on August 7, 2009. By August 8 father and son were back in the U.S.
But by October 19 McAuliffe had requested and received the right to telephone the boy twice a week for 15 minutes.
“What I can’t figure out is that I won full custody of Liam Jack, so what part of that can’t the Bronx District Attorney’s Office understand? It’s just an unwritten policy I guess -- father’s are given less rights, the want the status quo to work,” says Lawlor.
“They do not want fathers to get custody of their children. Now I can understand why some men walk away the way they do. This is the hardest battle I ever fought for the love of my son.”
And why is Lawlor prepared to fight so hard? “The reason is the first hand behavior of my ex-wife and her family that I have never seen the likes of before. I could not accept that my son would grow up in that environment, there’s no way I could accept it,” he said.
“I’ve come up with the money to fight this, and right now I have to worry about Liam. I want people who read the Irish Voice to see what an Irish emigrant and a father have to do in this country to seek out the love of a child. A simple thing that should be recognized.”
Lawlor does not fear any legal challenge to his custody of his son, based on the past behavior of his ex-wife, he says.
“Anyone in their right mind is going to say here we have someone who has issues with authority and self-control. If I thought she was good for Liam I would accommodate her in every way, and I would be happy to do so. But I have seen the violence, hatred, anger and bigotry in her home, and I can not accept that’s an environment for my child.”
Asked why he wants to pursue prosecution now, Lawlor says he wants to demonstrate that fathers have rights too.
“It comes down to my love for my son and how I was raised, my own family values. If there’s leniency handed down that sends the message that the other party can continue doing what they’re doing,” he says.
“If I know I can walk in off the street, make claims against the other party, or falsely accuse them, and keep the child while alienating them against the other parent and get away with it, what’s to stop me from doing it? Especially if I have money behind me to keep the ball rolling, keep the pressure on.
“I’m all for equal rights. But no one will understand what I’ve been put through until they’re actually brought in front of a court to seek judgment for the love of their own children. The truth will reveal itself, it always does. So I am feeling confident about this prosecution. Your lies eventually catch up with you.”