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December 28, 2000

Becker fuels dispute over child custody

Makes high court appeal: Former tennis star wants wife to return two sons to Germany

Hannah Cleaver
The Daily Telegraph

BERLIN - Boris Becker appealed to Germany's highest court yesterday to force his wife, Barbara, to bring their two sons back to Germany in a move that threatens to reopen a highly charged dispute between Germany and the United States over child custody.

The three-time Wimbledon champion asked a court in Munich to make his wife of seven years return from one of the family's homes in Miami with Noah Gabriel, 6, and Elias Balthasar, 1.

He has also asked for sole custody of the children, who were taken to Miami by Mrs. Becker three weeks ago. She is the daughter of a German mother and a U.S. serviceman who was based in Munich.

Lawyers for the former tennis star also contacted the German Chief Federal Prosecutor to ask for his help in enforcing the International Hague Convention, which says children who are the subject of international custody disputes should be returned to the country they were normally resident in when the parents' relationship broke down.

U.S. courts do not recognize German law, and as Mrs. Becker and the children have dual German and U.S. citizenship, Mr. Becker would have to convince a U.S. court to make her return the children.

The German chief federal prosecutor has already passed the files to the U.S. authorities, the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported.

Custody disputes have often caused diplomatic difficulties between Germany and the United States, as German courts are accused of unfairly siding with the German partner in marriages with other nationals.

The problem was discussed during a visit by Bill Clinton, the U.S. President, to Germany in June, when he spoke to Gerhard Schroeder, the German Chancellor, about the problem. The Germans promised to set up a working group to look at the legal situation.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress approved a resolution condemning Germany for "consistently violating" the Hague convention.

The case of Lady Meyer, wife of the British ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, received particular attention. Her two sons were taken six years ago by her former husband, Dr. Hans-Peter Volkmann, to Germany, where they still live. He has refused her access and has been backed by the German courts.

After meeting Mr. Clinton, Mr. Schroeder defended his country's handling of such cases, saying German politicians were not willing to try to change the opinions of the courts.

Mr. Becker's case is the other way around: He is fighting to take the children from the United States to Germany. He may have greater success: Another high-profile German, pop star Nina Hagen, succeeded in having her son returned to Germany after taking a similar legal route.

He is also intent on having the divorce settlement finalized in Germany, where his pre-nuptial agreement is recognized. It limits the amount of maintenance Barbara Becker can claim to about $3.8-million.

If, as she wants, the proceedings are dealt with in the United States, she could claim up to half his $150-million fortune.

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