Month: May 2024

Abducted Child Returned to Third Country

In an international custody case, can a court order an abducted child be returned to a third country that’s not the habitual residence if the habitual residence has become unsafe? This is a frequent problem under the Hague Convention, and one New York appeals court just answered the question.

International Custody

Два чоботи – пара

(“Two shoes make a pair”)

Tereshchenko and Karimi married in Odesa, Ukraine, in 2017. They are the parents of two children, one born in Ukraine and another born Florida. They divorced in 2018, and signed a custody agreement under which the children would reside with Karimi and Tereshchenko would “freely visit” with them and participate in their upbringing.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. Karimi contacted Tereshchenko in Dubai by phone and asked for the passports so they could quickly leave Ukraine.

He agreed, but asked that they be brought to him in Dubai. Instead, she took the children to Poland, and ultimately to Manhattan. On January 8, the court found the children were “habitual residents” of Ukraine, and return to Ukraine did not pose a grave risk of harm.

The court ordered the return the children to Tereshchenko in France.

Hague Child Abduction Convention

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction under the Hague Convention. The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children to the State of their habitual residence to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting or retaining a child.

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

If an applicant can prove his prima facie case, the abducted children must be promptly returned to their habitual residence. But what if no one is left in the habitual residence?

Розставити всі крапки над “і”

(“Dotting your “i”)

The appeals court noted that both parents agreed to remove the children from Ukraine because of the Russian invasion. And both parents continue to recognize the dangers posed by returning the children to Ukraine.

Notwithstanding the grave risk of harm facing the children if returned to Ukraine, the court agreed a court could return a child temporarily in a third country. The ongoing war in Ukraine simply precluded entry of the ordinary Hague Convention order.

However, even if a court does return a child to a third country instead of the habitual residence, the return order must be tailored to secure the continued authority of the Ukrainian courts over the children and over the parents’ respective custody rights. Absent such tailoring, the order has the effect of an impermissible custody determination.

The Convention did not accept a proposal to the effect that the return of the child should always be to the State of its habitual residence before removal․ The Convention’s silence must be understood as allowing the return of a child directly to the applicant, regardless of the place of residence.

The opinion is available at the invaluable MK Family Law site.

Joint Custody in Japan

Many parents and divorce lawyers in Japan are celebrating a change in international child custody laws after the Japanese parliament passed a bill to introduce the concept of joint child custody for divorcing couples in Japan.

Joint Custody Japan

A Glow in Tokyo

In the first law change regarding parenting in 77 years, Japan’s Civil Code will permit divorced parents to choose either sole custody or joint custody. The bill marks a significant shifting in attitudes about gender roles and family in Japan. In Japan, women remain the primary caregivers in most households.

The change in joint custody law comes as the relationships in families across Japan diversify. There has been a rise in married couples divorcing, and increasingly both parents now want to play a role in raising children. Under the current system in Japan, foreign citizens who want to maintain ties with their children found it challenging if one of the parents relocated to Japan.

Florida Joint Custody

I have written about joint custody issues before. Child custody in Florida is broken down into two distinct components: parental responsibility (which is decision-making) and timesharing (physical custody and visitation rights). Both components must be incorporated into a “parenting plan.”

Florida historically did not have a presumption in favor of any specific timesharing schedule. In establishing timesharing, the court always considered the best interests of the child and evaluated all factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the family.

Since 2023, the Florida Legislature added a rebuttable presumption to the law that equal time-sharing of a minor child is in the best interests of the minor child. To rebut this presumption, a party must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that equal timesharing is not in the best interests of the minor child.

Know Before You Go to Kyoto

Under Japan’s revised Civil Code, parents will determine between themselves whether to opt for sole or joint custody. When there is a dispute, a family court judge will have to decide on the appropriate custody arrangements. In cases where domestic violence and abuse by one of the parents is suspected, the other parent will have sole custody.

Supporters of joint custody argue the new law allows both parents to take part in child-rearing, after a divorce. However, victims of domestic violence have voiced concern that a joint custody system could hinder them from severing ties with their abusers as it would maintain connections to their former spouses.

Some also fear such victims may not be able to negotiate single custody or joint custody on an equal footing. To address concerns, the bill was modified during parliamentary deliberations to add a clause that calls for considering measures to “confirm the true intention” of each parent, but critics argue the government measures to protect domestic violence victims are too vague.

Under joint custody, consensus between parents is not required in making decisions on day-to-day matters, such as what to feed children and whether to vaccinate them. Parents must reach consensus on important matters such as education and long-term medical treatment, but if they cannot do so in time in an urgent situation, one of the parents can decide on their own.

To avoid ambiguity in what would constitute an urgent situation, the government plans to provide clear examples. The revision also includes measures against unpaid child support that will oblige a parent to provide minimum payments even if no agreement is reached upon divorce.

Japan had been the only country among the Group of Seven industrialized nation with no joint custody system, causing it to receive criticism in parental abduction cases. In cases involving Japanese spouses who took children away from foreign partners after the failure of marriages, foreign parents had difficulty seeing their children in Japan.

In 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging Japan to improve its child custody rules, under which European parents in Japan have little recourse in the event of domestic child abduction by a Japanese spouse.

The Kyodo News article is here.