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“Today Macayla is ahead of the game, whereas she wasn’t before,”
- Patrick Eagan, Macayla Bearisto's lawyer
Sahara Cook is staying in Nova Scotia with her mother.
Nova Scotia’s top court has dismissed a Hague Convention application by her father, Jeremy Cook, that sought to have the two-year-old returned to Washington State.
Sahara’s fate became provincial news this summer when Cook came to Tatamagouche to exercise his visitation rights with his daughter and fled with her back to Washington State.
There he had sought a divorce from Sahara’s mother, Macayla Beairsto, and been awarded custody because Beairsto hadn’t participated in court proceedings.
For her part, Bearisto had been seeking a divorce from Cook and custody rights simultaneously in a Nova Scotia court.
Beairsto’s father eventually travelled to Washington State and brought Sahara home.
Wednesday’s decision ended an application for Sahara’s return that Cook had sought under the Hague Convention — an international treaty meant to prevent parents from taking children across national boundaries during custody disputes.
He’d argued that according to the convention’s wording, Sahara was a “habitual resident” of Washington State despite only having spent the first 42 days of her life there.
On Wednesday the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled that a new precedent in the Supreme Court of Canada meant that Washington State could no longer be considered Sahara’s “habitual residence.”
“What evidence there is demonstrates that immediately prior to June 2017, Sahara had become integrated into the family and social environment in Nova Scotia,” Justice Duncan Beveridge said in a written decision from the three-judge panel.
“It was where Ms. Beairsto’s family is from, where she grew up, and continually returned. It was where Ms. Beairsto secured employment and where Sahara became integrated with Ms. Beairsto’s extended family.”
But Beairsto’s legal fight to keep Sahara isn’t necessarily over.
Her lawyer, Patrick Eagan, said Wednesday that Cook can still seek custody in a Nova Scotia court.
“There is a potential custody fight here but I don’t see her losing custody,” said Eagan.
“The Hague application was dismissed, so Nova Scotia is now the jurisdiction where custody is decided.”
Eagan also has to get contempt of court charges dropped against Beairsto in Washington State in relation to Cook’s original divorce filings.
“Today Macayla is ahead of the game, whereas she wasn’t before,” he said.
“It’s good news.”