Home at last
Father reunited with his son after lengthy international custody battle
When Desmond McKenzie boarded a flight for New York City last December, he harboured doubts about how the final chapter of his over four-year legal fight to be reunited with his young son would end.
McKenzie was heading to New York with a final order made by Jamaican Supreme Court Judge Maxine Jackson that gave him full custody of his son.
The last time the Portland man saw his son was in August 2018 when he allowed the then six-year-old to visit his mother in the United States, unaware of the international child custody battle that would ensue.
His doubts were fuelled by memories of a trip to New York in late 2018 when he left empty-handed. Though he had an interim order for custody of the child from the Jamaican high court, it “was not sufficient” for the New York court.
“I can’t say that I was confident that I was going to bring him back home,” he recounted during an interview with The Sunday Gleaner last week.
“I just went there with the order. I couldn’t say I knew what was going to happen because even though I had the order, I still had to go through their courts and the final decision would be made by a judge there.”
But this time around things would be different, though McKenzie had to overcome one last legal hurdle.
The final order was filed in a New York court and the boy’s mother, Lacy-Ann Raymond, was ordered to present him in court.
The now 11-year-old boy arrived at the courthouse while McKenzie waited in the lobby area, he recounted. This was the first time father and son were coming face to face in four-plus years.
McKenzie could not explain his emotions. “It was just a big relief,” he remembered of the moment.
His son had no reservations.
“He came straight over to me and I embraced him and he said ‘something looks different about you, are you working out’,” McKenzie recalled, smiling at his son’s first words to him.
But there was one more surprise awaiting McKenzie when he entered the courtroom. That’s when he found out that Lacy-Ann Raymond had commenced immigration proceedings to legalise the child’s status in the US.
The filing, McKenzie claimed, was based on the assertion that he had “abandoned” his son.
“For them to do that, it requires permission from both parents. So, for them to accomplish that without my permission, they had to indicate that I had abandoned him,” he claimed, relating what happened in court.
According to Lorenzo Eccleston, the attorney who represented McKenzie in the Jamaican court, that assertion was dismissed after his client produced documents from Jamaica showing that he has been fighting since 2018 to regain custody of his son.
That was the convincing element that doomed the abandonment application, Eccleston said.
“I would have given him all the relevant documents from Jamaica to substantiate his position. So when he went before the court in New York, they had all our documents, all the orders, everything to show that he has been fighting to get access to his son,” the lawyer told The Sunday Gleaner.
In the end, the New York court upheld the final order made by the Jamaican Supreme Court that granted full custody to McKenzie, allowing him to leave the courtroom with his son.
The decision came days before the child’s 11th birthday and to celebrate, the elated father immediately bought him an Xbox gaming system.
McKenzie said based on conversations the two shared during breaks in the court proceedings, it was clear that his son wanted to return to Jamaica.
As he made arrangements for the flight home, McKenzie became aware that the child’s mother had already started making preparations for a birthday party for her son.
“As I have said on previous occasions, regardless of what she did, that doesn’t change the fact that she is still his mother. He is going to love her regardless and in some strange way I think that she loves him just as much,” he said, explaining his decision to allow her time to host the party.
Was he concerned that Lacy-Ann would again deny him access to his child?
McKenzie said he was not too worried because measures were put in place by the New York authorities to ensure this would not happen.
‘NO AWKWARD MOMENTS’
The Portland man, who has other children and has since got married, returned to Jamaica with his son last December and described a seamless bond with his siblings.
“There were no awkward moments,” he noted.
Eccleston said the boy appeared happy to be with his father. “There was nothing odd or unusual or strange about their interactions,” he said.
McKenzie said his son is back at the same primary school he was attending before he left Jamaica and is doing well academically.
“When he just came back he was not so talkative at school, but now it’s as if he didn’t leave. He has reintegrated well, he has friends, he’s participating in sports,” said McKenzie, adding that the 11-year-old is getting ready to sit the Primary Exit Profile exams.
McKenzie has already purchased his son a cell phone and said he allows him to interaction with his mother without any restrictions.
“He’s free to communicate with them whenever he wants,” said the father.
McKenzie said his fight for his son was never about inspiring other men, but would be happy if that’s a byproduct of his ordeal.
“It was all worth it,” the relieved father concluded.