Eric A. Foretich, the Virginia oral surgeon whose child-custody dispute with ex-wife Elizabeth Morgan led to five years of bitter legal wrangling, said last night that a New Zealand judge has granted custody of the child to Morgan and that it would be "meaningless" for him to continue the fight.

Foretich said he learned of the decision by a Family Court judge in Christchurch, New Zealand, several days ago. Court officials there could not be reached last night, but WUSA-TV (Channel 9) reported that Morgan had been granted custody of 8-year-old Hilary Foretich on the condition that Morgan remain with her in New Zealand.

Efforts to reach Morgan, who has moved to Christchurch, were unsuccessful last night.

The case, which began in 1985, became one of the most highly publicized and hard-fought child-custody cases in the nation.

Morgan, a plastic surgeon who was divorced from Foretich before Hilary was born, has accused him of sexually abusing the child, charges that Foretich has steadfastly denied and that D.C. Superior Court Judge Herbert Dixon said had not been proved.

Hilary disappeared from Washington three years ago, and Morgan served 25 months in the D.C. jail rather than reveal her whereabouts. Private investigators hired by Foretich discovered the girl earlier this year living with her maternal grandparents in Christchurch.

Foretich said last night that the Family Court decision, which capped nearly 10 months of legal maneuvering in Christchurch, means "one of us is going to have to give up, and I guess it's going to be me. It's meaningless to continue. What's the point?

"I can't physically take her from New Zealand, and I'm not going to move there," Foretich said. "I'm not a New Zealander, I'm an American."

Foretich said that under the order, he would have to notify the New Zealand court to make arrangements for any visitation.

He said he would not attempt any visits with Hilary until he believes she is old enough not to be influenced by her mother.

In any case, Foretich said, visits would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible. You just can't fly to New Zealand and back for the weekend."

"I guess I'll have to learn to live with it and hope and pray that {Hilary} and I can someday have a normal relationship," he said.

Foretich said he wishes to spare Hilary from any further publicity about the case.

"Frankly, I'm tired of the publicity myself," he said.

Of Morgan, Foretich said: "I don't believe she is a fit parent. But the fact is, she is Hilary's mother and she is down there and that is the cold reality."