— A contentious custody battle is being played out on opposite corners of the globe, with an innocent 18-month-old caught in the middle of it all.
The father, Chuck Peters, is a decorated war veteran living in the Arab emirate of Dubai. The mother, Stacy Peters, recently fled Dubai over allegations of infidelity brought against her by her by Chuck, because in Dubai, infidelity is a crime punishable by imprisonment.
Accusations have been flying from both sides as the two parents vie for custody of 18-month-old Caroline, who is living with her father. NBC’s Janet Shamlian spoke with Chuck in Dubai in a report that aired on TODAY Tuesday. Afterward, TODAY’s Natalie Morales conducted a live interview with Stacy, who was accompanied in Studio 1A by her lawyer.
A ‘vacation life’
Chuck Peters told Shamlian that the custody battle over Caroline that is tougher than any fight he faced during his decade in the military, which included three tours in Iraq as a member of the Special Forces, during which he was awarded two Bronze Stars.
Chuck and Stacy met in high school and married while he served in the military, finally moving to Dubai on a consulting contract soon after Caroline was born. Chuck said, “We were just happier than we’ve ever been in our life; it was like we started a vacation life.”
But that “vacation life” came to an abrupt end when their marriage began to fall apart. Each parent has accused the other of endangering Caroline; Chuck has alleged that Stacy was not only unfaithful, but also abused prescription drugs.
Stacy however, said that “without a doubt there is zero drug and alcohol abuse in my history ... and if he could prove any of this, he would do it here.”
Stacy fled Dubai for Tennessee, where she now resides and is trying to get Caroline back. Now more than five months pregnant, she has accused Chuck of physical abuse, which he says is false.
According to Chuck, it was Stacy who became abusive. “When I realized that she was no longer rational, when I realized she was causing harm — at least putting Caroline in danger — I knew I had to act quickly to protect my daughter,” he told Shamlian.
Stacy hasn’t seen her daughter since the end of March. She went to court in Tennessee, where a judge declared that her husband’s actions constituted “constructive and actual child abduction and kidnapping."
But Chuck denies it is kidnapping. “I think it’s ridiculous, preposterous,” he told Shamlian.
Caught in the middle
Stacy was in the TODAY studio Tuesday to defend herself and make a plea for her daughter’s safe return to the U.S.. She said she had to leave Dubai without Caroline because she had no choice. She told Morales, “[Chuck] took everything from me and I was scared for my life. I had no other choice. I would’ve left with her a long time before that if I had any ability to.”
According to Stacy, the relationship was abusive, though she did not report it to the authorities in Dubai. “I reported it to an overseas domestic violence organization who explained to me that if I went to the police in Dubai they would take my passport and I wouldn’t be able to leave so I couldn’t report it there.”
In response to the allegations that she has abused prescription drugs and been unfaithful, Stacy said, “He left me and Caroline for three and a half months while he was in Dubai by himself. He’s never made these allegations to me at any point until the last month ...he’s never been worried about Caroline before.”
Stacy’s lawyer, Jeremy Morley, said that if Chuck returns to the U.S., he will have to appear in civil court and explain the situation. He said that Chuck “has refused two separate court orders that require him to come to court with Caroline and explain the rights and wrongs and let the American court decide what’s best for the child.” Chuck has been held in contempt of court for remaining in Dubai.
Amid all the battling between Chuck and Stacy, one thing is for sure — Caroline is a joyful little girl seemingly caught in the middle. Her father said, “She’s got the best of both Stacy and I times 100. She’s just an incredible, incredible little girl.”