QCOSTARICA – A PhysEd teacher managed to get the Judiciary to agree to pay him just over ¢1.2 million colones (US$2,000) for taking him off a plane due to an error with alimony payments.
That case foes back to February 2016 and it was not until February his year, five years later, that the Superior Council agreed to recognize the damage caused to the teacher.
“It was a heartbreaking situation. Everyone stares at you, but the most difficult thing was the credibility with your spouse. Who is going to expect that? At that time I was a gym teacher in Suerre and, the first thing that comes to mind to my wife, was that I had been unfaithful,” recalled the teacher who now works in a school in Pococí, Limón.
The couple was on a going to vacation to Cancun, Mexico.
On the morning of February 4, 2016, they were inside the airplane at the Juan Santamaría airport, in Alajuela, when two immigration officers entered and took the man off the plane because he had an ” impedimento de salida” (exit impediment) for not paying alimony.
After several hours of phone calls, the teacher was able to show that he was not the person with the alimony obligation, but a third party.
The mistake had been made since 2013 by a judicial official, who entered the teacher’s cedula number on the file of another man who was under an alimony order.
On that day in February, the teacher’s wife also got off the plane to learn more of what was happening to her husband.
After the error was cleared up, the teacher, who is 37 years old today, and his wife, 36, were able to leave the country on another flight that left that same day shortly before midnight.
“Obviously the trip was not the same. The perspectives changed a lot. Although they told us ‘you have the right to leave’, there is that little thorn in the side. I was very angry and my wife with doubting whether I was actually unfaithful and all,” added the teacher, who preferred to stay anonymous.
Upon returning to the country, the teacher sued the Judiciary in a contentious process and asked that the payment of the additional air tickets as well as the damages caused be recognized.
On October 30, 2020, the Contentious Administrative and Civil Court agreed with him. It ordered the Judiciary to pay him “¢230,909 colones for pecuniary damage, which corresponds to the additional costs of the plane tickets plus interest (…) and ¢500,000 to each of person, for a total of one million colones”.
“My lawyer had told me that it had been won, that after so long it was resolved, but economically, I have not received a single colon. I don’t know if I have to get it or what,” the teacher told La Nación in an interview.
The teacher’s experience was not the first, nor has it been the last. Dozens of travelers have taken off the planes due to errors in identity. Not all for alimony, though the majority of impediments to leaving the country are for that.
And not exclusive to men.
Women have also experienced the nightmare of being taken off a plane for not paying alimony.
Patricia Carrera was one such woman, who along with Jorge Carvajal, had planned a trip to visit Connecticut, New York and Washington, for a week and a half.
She was taken off the plane because she was mistakenly had an exit impediment for alimony. The incident occurred in September 2016 at the San Jose airport.
According to Carrera, that day they were already in her seat, with her seat belt on, when she heard her name being called out over the loudspeaker.
“I left and an immigration officer was waiting for me to ask for my passport and he told me that I could not take off and had to get off the plane. I told him: “What is happening?” And he replied: “Here is the document, it is a claim for alimony.” I insisted that this couldn’t be possible, I don’t even have children, but he told me there was nothing he could do,” Carrera commented.
She was allowed to return to the plane, in custody, but to tell her husband that she would have to get off.
Why does this happen?
In Costa Rica, prior to leaving the country, either by land, sea, or air, a check of the Judiciary system is made, for any impediments to leaving the country are registered against a person.
Typically, impediments are registered in criminal cases, ie pending a court appearance or condition of release in a criminal investigation. And alimony, “pensión alimentaria” in Spanish.
The person should be stopped at the front line police checkpoint at the airports, for example. But, as it turns out, in most cases the Judiciary check is not made after the person has passed the security check, boarded the plane and waiting for takeoff.
This check is also the reason for the delays when a “system failure” occurs at the airport, such as the case last April 28, when the “checks”, not only for alimony and other impediments in the country but also Interpol warrants, have to be made manually.