DUBAI // Last month, 16-month-old Caroline Peters was reported missing and in danger.
She had, a court in the United States ruled, been kidnapped and was being held in the UAE.
But Caroline, a vivacious toddler who loves to dance, has never left the home in Dubai where she has lived for nearly a year.
Caught in the middle of an international custody battle that includes allegations of physical abuse and adultery, she is now the focus of court cases on either side of the world.
Her mother, Stacy Peters, left the UAE in March after her husband, Charles Peters, locked her out of their villa in Dubai and warned that he planned to file for divorce, alleging adultery, drug abuse and child neglect.
Fearing arrest, Mrs Peters left the country and filed a case in a Tennessee court to have Caroline returned to the US. Last month it ordered Mr Peters to return Caroline to the US and surrender his passport.
Mr Peters, a former US army special forces officer, said this week he would not return to the US until the divorce and custody cases he had filed in Dubai had been resolved, which could take six months or longer.
"I'm an American citizen and I'm appealing what is happening in America," he said. "I'm trying to follow both sets of rules."
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sets out procedures for international custody cases. If the UAE were a signatory, the case would be simple. But it is not. Instead, cases are governed by domestic laws that do not necessarily recognise foreign orders.
Joshua Lindsey, Mr Peters' lawyer, wants the US case dismissed. "We are contesting the validity of the law suit in the US," Mr Lindsey said.
The Peters met as teenagers in Minnesota and were married for eight years. They moved to the UAE last year when Mr Peters took a job as an instructor for the UAE Armed Forces.
When they separated, Mr Peters expected the divorce and custody proceedings to go through the UAE courts.
He was surprised, he said, when Mrs Peters left the country in March. She said she had no choice, claiming he blocked her access to their bank account.
"Even though I knew it might be coming I was still shocked," Mrs Peters said. "I had no money. I left solely because we are all American citizens."
Now Mrs Peters, who is pregnant - Mr Peters plans to take a paternity test - said the UAE charges prevented her from returning.
UAE lawyers said a sentence of between six and 12 months in prison is typical for adultery, although under Sharia it carries a maximum sentence of death.
"I have zero option of ever returning to the UAE," she said.
Mr Peters said he was not trying to use UAE law to keep his wife from being a part of Caroline's life, and planned to return to the US.
"Right now, I am going to get through the Dubai court system," he said. "Of course I want to return to the US."
But he admitted that he hoped to stay in the UAE as long as possible.
"This is a nice place for Caroline," Mr Peters said. "I'm done with work at 2pm and I'm with her by 3.30. We go to the pool almost every day.
"You cannot get this quality of life in the US."
Both parents expressed their hope for a resolution that would allow shared custody, although both said they feared for Caroline's safety when she was left alone with the other.