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Missouri Mom Can Keep Kids in U.S., Court Says

(CN) - A Missouri mother did not violate international law by keeping her three children in the United States after her ex-husband moved to Israel, the 8th Circuit ruled.

Sagi and Tamar Barzilay married in Israel in 1994 and divorced in Missouri 11 years later. They were granted joint physical and legal custody of the children.

Sagi returned to Israel and began pressuring his ex-wife to move back, too, citing a repatriation agreement in their divorce decree.

While Tamar and the children were visiting Israel in 2006, Sagi obtained an ex parte order from the family court in Kfar Saba that barred his ex-wife from taking the children back to the United States.

He argued that Tamar had violated their custody agreement by failing to make plans to move back to Israel with the children, and that taking the children back to Missouri would amount to kidnapping.

Hours before Tamar's flight back to the United States, she signed a consent judgment agreement to move back to Israel with her children. But she later claimed that the deal was coerced, and that she signed it only to be able to leave the country.

She petitioned a Missouri court to remove the repatriation agreement from the original custody decree and limit Sagi's visitation rights. When she won, Sagi sued her in federal court for allegedly violating the International Child Abduction Remedies Act and the Hague Convention.

The district court sided with Tamar, saying the children's country of "habitual residence" was the United States and not Israel.

The St. Louis-based appeals court affirmed.

"The district court did not err in concluding that immediately before the alleged wrongful retention in this case commenced, the Barzilay children's country of habitual residence was the United States, and that their retention in Missouri was therefore not wrongful under the Hague Convention," Judge Diana Murphy wrote.

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