Four sisters at the centre of an international custody dispute will be sent back to Italy after their father promised not to take legal action against the mother for their abduction.


Brisbane Family Court Justice Colin Forrest on Wednesday ruled there were insufficient exceptional circumstances to allow the girls, aged nine to 15, to remain in Australia.

However, he refused to make the order to return the children to Italy until their father gave an undertaking to withdraw any complaint against their mother.

The father did so, via telephone through his lawyer, from his home in Italy.

The girls’ mother sobbed as Justice Forrest spent more than one hour reading out his reasons for dismissing her application to discharge his previous order for the girls’ return.

She reluctantly provided to the court the address of where the children are staying and asked for permission to see them.

Justice Forrest said he had no power to deny or grant permission.

He refused her request that he stay his return order so she could consider if there were further avenues of appeal.

Lawyers for the Department of Child Safety said they would ensure the children were returned to Italy as quickly as possible.

The sisters attracted international media attention in May when they went into hiding to avoid a 2011 Family Court order to return to Italy, where they are the subject of a custody dispute.

The sisters, who hold dual Italian-Australian citizenship, travelled to Australia with their mother in 2010 for a one-month holiday and have remained here since.

During a hearing last week, the mother’s legal team argued that the return order should be discharged because it was made more than 12 months ago and the girls had settled in Australia.

But the Department of Child Safety said the court was bound by the Hague Convention on child abduction.

Discharging the order wouldn’t be fair on other families who had honoured the convention, it argued.

Justice Forrest said he accepted the girls now objected to returning to Italy, however he said he believed their views had been “significantly influenced” by their mother and other family members.

He said he believed the children were reluctant to return because their mother had repeatedly told them she would not join them because of fears she would be imprisoned upon her return for keeping them in Australia.

Justice Forrest said he believed she would return with them if the girls’ father promised not to pursue criminal complaints against her.

She has not indicated if she will do so.