Mum's battle to bring her boys back home

20 April 2023

A KNAPHILL mother of twins is more determined than ever to bring her nine-year-old boys back to the UK after their father abducted them from her and took them to his native Croatia.

Nataly Anderson has fought a seven-year battle with her former husband and in courts across Europe to secure custody of the twins, but the children remain in Croatia, where they were born in 2013.

She is now seeking to build wider support for her cause by asking for “concerned citizens” to sign her petition addressed to the Governments of Croatia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, the European Union and even His Holiness Pope Francis.

The breadth of the petition reflects the tangled complexity of Nataly’s case and what she sees as the need to appeal to ever higher reaches of authority to secure what she believes would be a satisfactory resolution for her and the twins.

The family moved back to London from Croatia in early 2016, Nataly having secured a job in the UK, and in June of that year her husband and father of the twins, Zvonimir Marinovic, told Nataly that he was taking the twins on holiday to Croatia.

Mr Marinovic, who Nataly met through the Guardian UK Soulmates dating website, soon texted her to say he was not returning, and was keeping the twins in Croatia.

“I filed a request for the return of the children under the Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction,” Nataly said. “My parents and I travelled to Croatia to be with the children when we could.

“In November 2016, a Croatian court ruled that the children must be returned to the UK, but my lawyer couldn’t tell me how we could enforce the court order.

“I stayed with the children in Croatia as I could see they were distressed when I left them, and I was concerned about their father’s unpredictable behaviour.

“I then learned that he had appealed the decision on the return of the children [which was successful], and subsequently we were divorced.

“I felt my children and I were unprotected by the law in Croatia, and I was becoming worried for my children, one of whom was showing signs of being on the autism spectrum.

“So I ran away with the boys in 2019, and came back to the UK.”

Nataly, 49, grew up in Horsell and Maybury, which helped her and the twins settle to their new lifestyle.

“I went to Leeds University to study Russian, then moved abroad to work on my languages,” Nataly said. “I lived in the Czech Republic and Croatia for about 16 years before coming back home after having the twins.

“The children settled happily back in England, and my son with suspected autism blossomed. 

“We were living with my parents in Knaphill, which the boys enjoyed, as we did before their father took them. They attended the Oaktree School in St John’s and loved it.”

However, Mr Marinovic filed for the children’s return under the Hague Convention, as Nataly had done three years earlier.

In March 2020, the High Court ruled that they must be sent back to Croatia, a distressing experience for the children, one of them screaming as they were handed over at a contact centre.

Only last month, Nataly again tried to bring the twins out of Croatia, in her words “escaping with them” to Switzerland, where she registered the children and herself as asylum seekers. 

Once more, though, with Mr Marinovic again relying on the Hague Convention, a court found against Nataly, this time in Zurich, in a process covering barely 10 days. Once more, the children were returned to Croatia.

Nataly, who has remained in Switzerland to pursue the asylum process for the twins, has appealed the decision.

Woking MP Jonathan Lord has been liaising with the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, on Nataly’s behalf, and referenced her case in a recent debate on International Child Abduction.

“I have been trying to help my constituent,” Mr Lord said. “I appeal to the Foreign Office ministers to have one further look at this case.’

So what next for Nataly? 

“This has never been about pushing the children’s father out of their lives,” she said. “It was asking him to respect the children’s wishes and need for their mother. He has shown no sympathy for what the boys want. I believe it is about the control he seeks to exercise over all of us.”