Lawyer fee ruling overturned in international custody case

By DAVE COLLINS Markets Associated Press

A court on Monday overturned an order for a Connecticut financier to pay nearly $90,000 in attorney fees racked up by a British television host during a long-running and bitter international child custody dispute.

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The Connecticut Appellate Court issued the decision in the custody case between Peter Rinfret and Melissa Porter. A lower court judge ordered Rinfret to pay Porter's attorney fees after Rinfret withdrew a custody lawsuit that the judge said was filed "in bad faith." Custody proceedings remain pending in England.

Rinfret is chief executive of Boston-based telecommunications company Flyp Inc. He once served as an aide to the late U.S. Ambassador to Russia Robert Strauss and an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch. His father, Pierre Rinfret, was an economic adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and a Republican candidate for New York governor who lost to Mario Cuomo in 1990.

Porter is known for hosting the BBC's "To Buy or Not to Buy" and "Escape to the Country."

Rinfret and Porter once lived together in Greenwich, Connecticut, and had a son in 2010, before Rinfret's divorce from his wife, Cindy, was finalized, according to court records.

In July 2011, Rinfret and Porter agreed they would move to London, according to Monday's court ruling. While in Stockport, England, in September 2011, Rinfret "surreptitiously" took the boy's passport from Porter "with the intent to abscond with the minor child ... and bring him back to the U.S.," the appellate court said.

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A series of legal actions soon began. Porter won an order from a court in Stockport, England, that prohibited removal of the boy, Pierce, from England and Wales. Rinfret then filed a legal action in the U.K. against Porter under a child abduction and custody law. He also sued Porter for custody in Connecticut.

An agreement was reached in December 2011 to dismiss Rinfret's case under the abduction and custody law and move the custody dispute to England's family court. Porter was given temporary custody of Pierce, with Rinfret assured reasonable contact time with the boy.

Rinfret withdrew the Connecticut lawsuit in December 2014, with the intent to keep pursuing custody in British courts. Judge Jane Emons later ordered Rinfret to pay Porter's attorney fees of nearly $90,000, saying Rinfret's claims "were entirely without color and ... he continuously, for over a four year period ... acted in bad faith."

Rinfret's lawyer, Carlo Forzani, said the appellate court made the right decision.

"He didn't do this in bad faith," Forzani said. "The child is a citizen of Connecticut. He did it because the child had been detained in England and he wanted the child back in Connecticut."

It wasn't clear if Porter plans to appeal Monday's decision. Messages seeking comment were left for her lawyer, Thomas Cassone.