Category: International Child Custody

International Child Abduction Oral Argument

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in one of the rare cases involving the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction which reach the high court. At issue is how to define what a child’s habitual residence is, a definition sorely missing in these kinds of cases – especially when infants are involved.

international child abduction

From the Cathedral of Milan . . .

Monasky, a U.S. citizen, married Taglieri, an Italian citizen, in 2011. The couple moved to Milan, Italy, in 2013. The child at the center of this international child custody dispute, known as A.M.T., was born in Italy in February 2015.

Monasky testified that after they arrived in Milan, she was the victim of domestic violence, and although she was pregnant by then she did not move with Taglieri when he took a job a few hours away in Lugo. In 2015, Michelle Monasky left a domestic-violence safe house in Italy where she had been staying with her newborn daughter and traveled to her parents’ home in Ohio.

Domenico Taglieri, her husband, filed a lawsuit in Ohio, asking a federal court to order his daughter’s return to Italy. He relied on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In his case, the Hague Convention requires the Court to return the child, if wrongfully removed from her country of “habitual residence,” to be sent back.

But what’s the “habitual residence” of a child like Monasky and Taglieri’s daughter, who is too young to really know where she is? The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the couple’s case to decide that questions.

International Child Abduction

I have written – and spoke earlier this year – on international custody and child abduction cases 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 a child.

The key inquiry in many Hague Convention cases, and the dispositive inquiry in the Taglieri case, goes to the country of the child’s habitual residence. Habitual residence marks the place where a person customarily lives.

Many people don’t realize it, but the Hague Convention does not actually define the key term ‘habitual residence.’ There are a couple of ways to determine it. The primary way looks to the place where the child has become “acclimatized.” The back-up inquiry for young children too young to become acclimatized looks to where the parents intend their child to live.

The trial judge in the Taglieri case gave a lot of weight to the fact that the parents agreed to move to Italy for their careers and lived as a family before A.M.T.’s birth; they both secured full-time jobs in Italy, and the Mother pursued recognition of her academic credentials by Italian officials.

On the other hand, the mother argued she expressed a desire to divorce and return to the United States; contacted divorce lawyers and international moving companies and they jointly applied for the baby’s passport, so she could travel to the United States.

. . . to America’s Temple of Justice

Arguing on Monasky’s behalf before the U.S. Supreme Court, her lawyer Amir Tayrani observed that the Hague Convention was designed to protect children from wrongful removal from their habitual residences.

Tayrani faced a series of questions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked whether under his approach some infants might not have a habitual residence at all for purposes of the convention, because their parents had never agreed on where to raise their child. Tayrani allowed that such a scenario could occur but suggested that it would be relatively rare, because it would only happen during the “unusual case” in which a couple’s relationship broke down during the mother’s pregnancy or immediately after birth.

But Ginsburg pointed out that many relationships that result in cases being brought under the Hague Convention are “so acrimonious that the chances of agreement are slim to none” which would leave children without a habitual residence. Justice Samuel Alito also seemed skeptical. Under that position, he told Tayrani, “either parent could snatch her. Possession would be ten-tenths of the law?”

Justice Elena Kagan proposed a rule that if a baby has lived somewhere her whole life, courts would normally presume the baby’s habitual residence to be the country in which she lived. Such a rule would be an “administrable rule” that “provides a lot of guidance” to the courts, and it would also deter abductions.

Roberts posited that “habitual residence” is a “meaningless concept for” infants. After all, Roberts observed, eight-week-old infants “don’t have habits. Well,” Roberts joked, “other than one or two.”

The father’s attorney told the justices that virtually all of the factors weigh in favor of Italy’s being A.M.T.’s habitual residence. She was there, he stressed, with both parents, and there are no other facts that would lead to a different conclusion.

The Scotus Blog article is here.

 

Social Media and International Child Custody

An American woman living in Saudi Arabia has been punished in her international child custody divorce. During the divorce trial, her Saudi ex-husband was able to introduce exhibits from her social media account into evidence. The social media evidence proved fatal to her custody case.

ocial media international child custody

Desert Justice

Though she succeeded with the divorce, her custody battle appeared to reach a dead end after a Saudi judge awarded custody of their daughter Zeina to the husband’s mother, who lives with him, despite video evidence Ms. Vierra submitted to the court that she said showed her ex-husband doing drugs and verbally abusing her in front of their daughter.

“It’s like 10,000 times worse here because so much is at risk for women when they go to court. I genuinely thought that there would still be justice served here, and I kind of put everything on that.”

Saudi courts prioritize ensuring that children are raised in accordance with Islam. According to court documents, the judge accepted Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband’s arguments that she was unfit to raise Zeina because she was a Westerner, and ran a yoga studio.

Social Media and International Child Custody

Divorce trials usually require the introduction of sensitive and personal evidence. For example, it is common to hire private investigators to film spouses, or use forensic accountants to hunt for strange credit card charges.

Sometimes though, the evidence falls in your lap. Facebook and other social media sites are often filled with very personal information which is increasingly being used in divorce trials. You may have heard of some examples:

  • A Husband posts his status as single and childless on Facebook while seeking primary custody of his children.
  • A mother is accused of never attending her kids’ school events because of her online gaming addiction. Evidence subpoenaed from World of Warcraft tracks her on-line with her boyfriend at the time when she was supposed to be with the children.
  • A husband denies he has any anger management issues, but posts on Facebook; “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”
  • A mom denies in court that she ever smokes marijuana, but then uploads photos of herself smoking pot on Facebook.

Is the evidence admissible? And if so, how do you prove the evidence is real and not maliciously put there? The Florida Bar Commentator published an article I wrote about using Facebook evidence at trial.

The article discusses the evidentiary potential of social media sites, and the peculiar challenges of authenticating materials from the internet. Social media websites like Facebook have had an astronomical growth worldwide, and are showing up in divorce trials.

The article suggests some of the benefits and obstacles in gathering and using Facebook and other social media evidence at trial. The article also reviews the then leading national cases on social media websites, and outlines when it is necessary to use computer forensic firms and other sources to ensure that the evidence is properly admitted.

Your Desert Kingdom Divorce

The status of women in Saudi Arabia is changing. Many women now enjoy new reforms in the law which allow women to drive, and even to a certain degree, vote. The election allowing it was for municipal councils with few powers, but the reform is a milestone for many women.

But the dramatic changes have not touched the most fundamental restriction on Saudi women, a guardianship system that gives men control over many critical parts of their wives.

The guardianship system’s rules extend to women who marry Saudis, like Ms. Vierra. Even after she divorced her husband last year, Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband remains her guardian. Wielding his guardianship powers, he prevented her from going home to see her family at Christmas and let her legal residency expire, which left her stuck, unable to access her bank account or leave Saudi Arabia.

During the divorce trial, he told the court that Ms. Vierra, did not speak Arabic well, and that she was an atheist. He also submitted photos of her in a bikini, in yoga pants . . . with her hair uncovered! This social media evidence of Ms. Vierra wearing forbidden yoga pants, in a country that requires women to wear loose abayas in public, was devastating at the divorce trial.

The court accepted his testimony at face value, she said, while hers was legally worthless unless she could bring in male witnesses to back her up. She tried to counter with videos of him that she said showed him rolling a joint to smoke hashish, talking on the phone about his marijuana use and screaming at Ms. Vierra, all with Zeina in the room. Though he acknowledged his drug use, he accused her in court of giving him the drugs and of forcing him to say he was an atheist, both of which Ms. Vierra denies.

In the end, the judge found both parents unfit to raise Zeina, awarding custody instead to the husband’s mother. But Ms. Vierra did not find this comforting; she said her ex-husband’s sister had testified that their mother had hit them and emotionally abused them as children.

“This is not just my story — there’s much worse. It’s hard to believe stuff like this can happen.”

The Independent article is here.

 

New International Child Custody Laws

Trying to combat a growing problem of parental child abduction, EU lawmakers adopted new rules to better protect children and bring quicker resolutions to child custody fights. What are in Europe’s new international child custody laws?

Brussels

The EU’s recent actions are a retooling of the Brussels IIa regulation, a cornerstone of EU judicial cooperation in cross-border matters involving marriage, divorce, separation, annulment and child custody.

A rise in international families – currently estimated at 16 million – and subsequent cross-border family disputes – 140,000 divorces and 1,800 children abducted by a parent annually – led the European Commission to propose amending the Brussels IIa regulation to make it more efficient.

“When parents decide to separate, children can be caught in the middle, and it gets even more complicated when the parents come from different EU countries. In these difficult situations everybody should focus on what is best for the child,” justice commissioner Vera Jourova said in a statement. “With the new rules, judicial cooperation will be faster and more efficient to make sure the children’s well-being comes first.”

The new rules aim to further enhance cross-border judicial proceedings on the basis of mutual trust between EU countries. By removing the remaining obstacles to the free movement of decisions, simplifying the procedures and enhancing their efficiency, the best interests of the child will be better protected.

It is hoped the new rules will bring legal certainty, reduce costs and, most importantly, limit the length of proceedings in international child abduction cases, for the benefit of both children and their parents

Florida Child Custody

Rules about children can differ around the world. I’ve discussed international child custody laws, especially as they relate to child abduction and The Hague Convention on child abduction. Child custody and timesharing is a matter I have written about specifically.

The Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by The Hague Conference on Private International Law to provide for the prompt return of a child internationally abducted by a parent from one-member country to another.

There are three essential elements to every Hague Convention case:

  1. The child must be under the age of 16 years of age;
  2. The wrongful removal must be a violation of the left behind parent’s “rights of custody;”
  3. The left behind parent’s rights of custody “were actually being exercised or would have been exercised but for the removal.”

So, if a child under the age of sixteen has been wrongfully removed, the child must be promptly returned to the child’s country of habitual residence, unless certain exceptions apply.

The catch, of course, is that a child must be taken from a signatory country to another signatory country, and that is where understanding The Hague Convention comes in.

Even signatory countries may be bad at abiding by the convention, especially when it means enforcing the return of children to a parent alleged to have been abusive.

The annual State Department report to Congress on observance of The Hague Convention lists Honduras as “non-compliant” and nine other countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Poland and Venezuela) as showing “patterns of non-compliance”.

EU New Rules

The changes concern mainly proceedings related to parental responsibility matters and international child abduction and will have a positive impact on all procedures involving children by:

Settling cross-border child abduction cases faster

The deadlines applying to different stages of the child return procedure will be limited to a maximum period of 6 weeks for the first instance court and 6 weeks for each court of appeal. Also, Central Authorities will process applications for return faster.

Ensuring the child is heard

Children who are capable of forming their own views, will be given the opportunity to express these views in all proceedings concerning them. This will apply to matters of parental responsibility and international child abduction cases. Determining how and by whom the child is heard is a matter left to national law.

Ensuring effective enforcement of decisions in other Member States

With the new rules, the exequatur, an intermediate procedure required to obtain cross-border enforcement, will be abolished for all decisions. Under the new rules, enforcement can be rejected or suspended largely under the same conditions in all Member States, increasing legal certainty for all citizens and in particular the children concerned.

Improving cooperation between Member States’ authorities

Good cooperation between the Central Authorities of different Member States in handling child cases is an indispensable prerequisite for mutual trust. The new rules promote better cooperation between Central Authorities, which are the direct point of contact for parents. Also, child welfare authorities will be better integrated into this cross-border cooperation.

The new rules also clarify the sensitive issue of the placement of a child in another Member State, and set up a clear procedure to obtain consent from the Member State where the child is to be placed.

Setting out clearer rules on the circulation of authentic instruments and agreements

Considering the growing number of Member States which allow out-of-court agreements on legal separation and divorce or on matters of parental responsibility, the new rules will facilitate the circulation of the instruments and agreements.

“I am very glad that following our proposal the Council adopted new rules to ensure that any disputes between parents who disagree after separation can be quickly solved. This is about putting children first.”

The Europa article is here.

 

 

Child Abduction and an Old Fish

The U.S. Supreme Court does not typically hear child custody cases, but just agreed to hear an international child abduction case. A baby brought here from Italy by her Mother after her marriage collapsed has to return the baby to Italy. Incredibly, the decision may rest on how smelly a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish is.

Child Custody

That’s Amore

The father, Taglieri is an Italian, and the Mother, Monasky, is an American. They met in Illinois. Taglieri, who was already an M.D., was studying for his Ph.D. and worked with Monasky, who already had a Ph.D.

They married in Illinois in 2011 and two years later, moved to Italy to pursue their careers in Milan, where they each found work. Their marriage had problems, including physical abuse.

In June 2014, Taglieri took a job at a hospital three hours from Milan. Monasky stayed in Milan, where she worked at a different hospital. Monasky had a difficult pregnancy, which, when combined with the long-distance separation, strained the relationship further. To make matters worse, she didn’t speak Italian or have a valid driver’s license, increasing her dependence.

During this time, the two argued but also jointly applied for Italian and American passports for their daughter. Two weeks later, Monasky left for the United States, taking their eight-week-old with her.

Taglieri filed an action in Italian court to terminate Monasky’s parental rights, which was granted. Then he filed a petition in Ohio seeking A.M.T.’s return under the Hague Convention.

International Child Abduction

I have written – and spoke earlier this year – on international custody and child abduction cases 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 a child.

The key inquiry in many Hague Convention cases, and the dispositive inquiry in the Taglieri case, goes to the country of the child’s habitual residence. Habitual residence marks the place where a person customarily lives.

Many people don’t realize it, but the Hague Convention does not actually define the key term ‘habitual residence.’ There are a couple of ways to determine it. The primary way looks to the place where the child has become “acclimatized.” The back-up inquiry for young children too young to become acclimatized looks to where the parents intend their child to live.

When the order hits your eye like a dead fish…

The issue for the appellate court was how they should review the trial judge’s ruling that Italy is the habitual residence of the baby girl.

The trial judge in this case gave a lot of weight to the fact that the parents agreed to move to Italy for their careers and lived as a family before A.M.T.’s birth; they both secured full-time jobs in Italy, and the Mother pursued recognition of her academic credentials by Italian officials.

On the other hand, the mother argued she expressed a desire to divorce and return to the United States; she contacted divorce lawyers and international moving companies and they jointly applied for the baby’s passport, so she could travel to the United States.

Faced with these facts the trial judge can rule in either direction, and after fairly considering all of the evidence, the trial judge found that Italy was A.M.T.’s habitual residence. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided:

We leave this work to the district court unless the fact findings “strike us as wrong with the force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider how appellate courts review a trial judge’s ruling on habitual residence. Is it reviewed under de novo standard, under a deferential version of de novo review, or under clear-error review?

Another question being considered is whether a subjective agreement between an infant ‘s parents is necessary to establish habitual residence when the infant is too young to acclimate.

The opinion is here.

 

International Child Custody just got Bigger in Japan

Japan’s legislature, the National Diet, just enacted a law to force parents to comply with child custody orders. Seems simple enough, but this is a game changer in Japan, as enforcement in Japan has been, and can be in other countries, one of the biggest obstacles to resolving international child custody cases.

International Child Custody

Lost in Translation

I’ve written about international child custody cases in Japan before, specifically Japan’s compliance with abducted children under the Hague Convention.

Many have found that international child custody cases in Japan was a Battle Royale. People have long suspected that Japan is not really compliant with The Hague. Although Japan signed the Convention in 2013, a lot of people thought Japan did so only because of international pressure.

For example, people have pointed out that Japan has expanded Hague Convention exceptions making some of them mandatory and requiring Japanese courts to consider more things when defenses are asserted.

There were many Tokyo Stories about Japanese courts considering if it was “difficult for parents to care for a child” – a factor outside the scope of the Convention – which allows Japanese parents to complain about the challenges of being away from home.

Enforcement was always a huge problem in international child custody cases in Japan. Japan cannot enforce their orders. The law Japan passed to implement The Hague forbids the use of force and says children must be retrieved from the premises of the parent who has taken them.

According to research, about 3 million children in Japan have lost access to one parent after divorce in the past 20 years – about 150,000 a year.

For foreign fathers fighting international child custody cases, “this poses major problems, because they have a different mentality and they can’t comprehend losing custody or the right to visit their child. So, even when foreign parents win their case in a Japanese court, enforcement is patchy.

The State Department’s 2018 report described “limitations” in Japanese law including requirements that “direct enforcement take place in the home and presence of the taking parent, that the child willingly leave with the taking parent, and that the child face no risk of psychological harm.”

Spirited Away

Before the revision, the civil implementation law had no clear stipulation regarding international child custody cases. Court officials had to rely on a clause related to asset seizures to enforce court orders, a tactic that was criticized for treating children as property.

The legislation originally required a parent living with a child to be present when the child was handed over to the other parent. With the revision, however, the law allows custody transfers to take place in the presence of just one parent, rather than both.

The revision removes this requirement to prevent parents without custody rights from thwarting child handovers by pretending they are not at home. In consideration of the children’s feelings, the revision requires in principle that parents with custody rights be present during handovers.

The amended law urges courts and enforcement officials to make sure handovers do not adversely affect children’s mental or physical well-being. The new rules will take effect within one year of promulgation.

Last Samurai

The National Diet also enacted an amendment specifically to its legislation implementing the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The new amendment was drafted in response to criticism about Japan’s international child custody cases, mentioned above: that handovers of children from Japan could not be carried out, even though Japan singed the Hague Convention designed to prevent parental abductions of children.

Historically, Japan maintained a system of sole custody. In a large majority of cases, when a dispute reaches court, mothers are typically awarded custody after divorce. It is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers when their parents break up.

The civil implementation law was also amended to allow Japanese courts to obtain information on debtors’ finances and property. The change is aimed at helping authorities seize money and property from parents who fail to meet their court-ordered child support obligations and from people who do not compensate victims of crime.

Ran

The U.S. Department of State ran to remove Japan from its list of countries said to be showing a pattern of noncompliance with the Hague Convention as a result of the Diet’s new laws. In its annual report, the department noted Japan’s legislative efforts to better enforce the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which Japan joined in 2014.

But the department “remains highly concerned about both the lack of effective mechanisms for the enforcement of Convention orders and the sizable number of pre-Convention abduction cases”.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, criticized the department’s removal of Japan from the list:

“It cannot be denied that the Japanese government has done little to help reunite those American children who have been separated from their left-behind parents.”

The Japan Times article is available here.

 

Child Abduction Defense

International child custody always has the potential of a wrongful abduction. A parent who keeps their child in another country after a vacation, may face accusations the retention is in violation of the Hague Convention. Is there an international child abduction defense?

Hague Convention on Child Abduction

I’m of course talking about The Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction done at the Hague on October 25, 1980. The Convention created procedures for the prompt return of children who have been wrongfully retained.

I have written and spoken on international child custody issues and the Hague Convention before. The left behind parent will typically file an application with their local Central Authority for transmission to the Central Authority in the country where the retained children are.

The elements of wrongful retention under the Convention include:

  • the habitual residence of the child was in the country to which return is sought;
  • the retention breached custody rights;
  • the left behind parent was exercising custody rights; and
  • the child is under 16.

If proven, the Convention requires courts to order the child to be returned to the child’s habitual residence, unless the party removing the child can establish at least one of several affirmative defenses.

There’s a Defense to Child Abduction?

In fact, there are a few affirmative defenses which can be raised by the alleged taking parent to prevent a court from ordering the prompt return of a child to the child’s habitual residence.

Rights of Custody

A typical defense is that the left behind parent was not exercising rights of custody at the time of the retention of the child. A custody ruling from a court from the child’s habitual residence may establish a right of custody.

The Hague Convention does not define the key term “exercise” of rights of custody, but many courts have found that they should liberally find “exercise” when a parent keeps regular contact with the child.

Consent

Another defense which can be raised is consent. A court not have to order the return of a child if the alleged taking parent can show the left behind parent gave prior consent to the retention or afterwards acquiesced.

Well Settled

Although there are more defenses, another defense often raised under the Convention is that the child is now “well-settled” in the new environment.

A court is not bound to order the return of a child if the alleged taking parent can prove that the case was filed more than one year after the wrongful retention, and the child is now settled in the new environment.

The Convention does not provide a definition of the term “settled.” But, some things to consider can include

  • The child’s age;
  • The stability and duration of the child’s residence in the new environment;
  • Whether the child attends school or day care consistently or inconsistently;
  • Whether the child has friends and relatives in the new area or does not;
  • The child’s participation in community or extracurricular school activities

The Hague

Keep in mind that the Convention does not consider who, between the parents, should have custody. Instead, the goal of the Convention is to determine whether the child has been wrongfully retained and if so, return the child.

International child abduction cases have some defenses a parent may want to think about before consenting to the other parent taking a quick vacation overseas to see relatives.

More information from the State Department on the Convention is available here.

 

International Child Custody

In Japan, tough laws and a patriarchal cultural overwhelmingly see mothers granted sole custody after a divorce – 80% of the time, according to official figures – meaning foreign fathers rarely see their children again. Is Japan a country in which international child custody cases are decided on discriminatory grounds?

International Child Custody

My Woman from Tokyo

Frenchman Emmanuel de Fournas has spent years battling for access to his daughter after his Japanese ex-wife moved back to Japan.

Despite winning a court order in France and filing a case under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in September 2014, he is still fighting for the right to see his daughter.

“I thought I could benefit from the clear rules of The Hague Convention, but… they aren’t respected in Japan. I’ve lost everything, my savings, my job.

His experience is not unusual.

Hague Convention is Not Big in Japan

I’ve written about international child custody issues in Japan before, specifically Japan’s compliance with abducted children under the Hague Convention.

Many have long suspected that Japan is not really compliant with The Hague. Japan signed the Convention in 2013 – and many suspect it did only because of international pressure.

For example, Japan has expanded Hague Convention exceptions making some of them mandatory and requiring Japanese courts to consider more things when defenses are asserted.

Japanese courts also can consider if it’s difficult for parents to care for a child – a factor outside the scope of the Convention – which allows Japanese parents to complain about the challenges of being away from home.

Enforcement is also a problem in Japan. Japan cannot enforce their orders. The law Japan passed to implement The Hague forbids the use of force and says children must be retrieved from the premises of the parent who has taken them.

According to research, about 3 million children in Japan have lost access to one parent after divorce in the past 20 years – about 150,000 a year.

Lovers in Japan

For foreign fathers fighting international child custody cases, “this poses major problems, because they have a different mentality and they can’t comprehend losing custody or the right to visit their child,” said Nahoko Amemiya, a lawyer for the Tokyo Public Law office.

Even when foreign parents win their case in a Japanese court, enforcement is patchy.

The State Department’s 2018 report described “limitations” in Japanese law including requirements that “direct enforcement take place in the home and presence of the taking parent, that the child willingly leave with the taking parent, and that the child face no risk of psychological harm.”

With opinion divided on what causes the most trauma to children, the longer a child is separated from one parent, the more reluctant authorities are to intervene, citing a “principle of continuity”.

“It’s not that Japanese courts favor the Japanese parent, it’s that they favor the ‘kidnapper,'” who is living with the child, said John Gomez, founder of the group Kizuna, which advocates for parents separated from their children.

Japan’s government defends its record, saying most of the 81 cases filed under The Hague Convention since 2014 have been settled.

There are some signs of change: a panel of experts met in June to discuss new ways to enforce court orders, as well as the issue of joint custody and changes to the law.

The Japan Times article is here.

 

International Custody and Abductions

Can you go to jail for helping parents abduct their own children? A few people in Australia face criminal charges for violation of international custody orders and could go to jail on child abduction charges.

International Custody

Who Can it be Now?

A vigilante group that allegedly financed and assisted women in Australia to abduct their own children and keep them hidden in violation of international custody orders issued by family courts in Australia has been caught by police.

Police charge the group with using many tactics, including: dyeing their hair, changing their names and altering their dates of birth

Police allege that for the past decade the group, headed by a doctor, has operated a sophisticated syndicate of “like-minded people”, who used clandestine methods to abduct and move children around the country.

Hague International Child Abduction

I’ve written on international custody issues, and specifically the Hague treaty on International Child Abduction, and will be speaking on the subject at the prestigious AAML Florida Bar Certification Review Course in Orlando in January.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides remedies for a “left-behind” parent. The Convention seeks to deter abducting parents by eliminating their primary motivation for doing so: to “deprive the abduction parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.”

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where:

  • a child is removed from his or her country of habitual residence and the removal 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.

So, when a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, the Hague Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith” and “shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody.”

Throw a few on the barbie

This is a very big international custody and child abduction case. Four people have been charged over organizing and financing an abduction syndicate which allegedly assisted in the parental abduction of children against international custody orders. Police have also identified a yacht, purchased and re-fitted for $140,000, used to transport abducted children to New Zealand or South Africa.

During the two-year investigation, 10 missing children were safely located in the custody of a parent who had abducted them. Five of those were reportedly linked to the syndicate.

It is alleged the group did not go by any name, but operated on a “word-of-mouth” basis, using a variety of encrypted phone applications to communicate and to

“The actions of this group do not protect children. What it does is potentially endanger the safety and wellbeing of them.”

The Sydney Morning Herald article is here.

 

International Custody

The European Union is reporting that increasing rates of international divorces – and cross-border child abductions – have become a real problem in international custody cases. The same is true in the United States. There are some treaties to deal with international custody cases everyone should know about.

International Custody

Go Dutch

The emphasis within the EU is that laws on conflict resolution need to be improved. The ministers in the EU are proposing that EU law should further emphasize protecting the rights of the child, and that decisions on parental child abduction cases must be made by practicing and experienced family judges.

The EU proposes to strengthen the rights of children throughout the dispute resolution procedure between divorcing couples.

If a child is abducted to another EU country by one of their parents, the EU proposes that the matter must be dealt with by practicing and experienced family judges, to ensure the best interests of the child are prioritized.

Hague Child Abductions

I have written – and will be speaking in January – on international custody and child abduction cases under The Hague Convention. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is supposed to provide remedies for a “left-behind” parent, like Mr. Cook, to obtain the wrongfully removed or retained children to the country of their habitual residence.

When a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, The Hague Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith” and “shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody.”

There are defenses though. For example, the court considered whether there is a grave risk that the child’s return would expose them to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.

Dutch Oven

According to EU policy makers, the child is the weakest link in disputes between parents during international custody cases, and therefore needs all the protection the EU can give. Notably, the hearing of the child is a key issue which merits detailed provisions.

Ministers in the EU also want to improve information-sharing and cooperation between the member states for international custody and divorce cases. The Commission estimates that there are 16 million international families in the EU and sets the number of international divorces in the EU at around 140,000 per year. There are around 1,800 parental child abductions within the EU every year.

The Europa article is here.

 

O Mundo é um Moinho: Brazil and Child Abduction

Two Brazilian grandparents arrested at Miami International Airport this week are charged with conspiracy and international parental kidnapping for helping move their grandson to Brazil. This is an interesting international custody and child abduction case.

Garota de Ipanema

As the New York Times reports, the father and mother were married in Texas in February 2008 and had Nicolas, their only child, a year later.

The Mother, Marcelle Guimaraes, filed for divorce in September 2012, and the couple shared custody.

The Mother, who is also facing criminal kidnapping and conspiracy charges, used the pretext of a family wedding to get Chris to allow Nico to travel to Brazil.

After arriving in Brazil though, Marcelle filed for sole custody and, according to the criminal complaint, misled Chris about her decision to remain permanently.

Once in Brazil, the Mother wrote to the father:

I have better conditions to raise our son, and I am willing to talk about visitation. My wish is that we can get into an agreement soon, so we can all move on with our lives.

Filho Maravilha

The Father, Dr. Chris Brann, who lives in Houston, said he had often struggled to get permission to see his son in more than 20 trips to Brazil since 2013.

What is unique about this child abduction case is that Chris got federal help. Wednesday, FBI agents arrested Chris’s former in-laws when they landed in Miami, and charged them with conspiracy and international parental abduction.

If convicted of child abduction, each grandparent faces up to five years in federal prison for the conspiracy, and a maximum of three years if convicted of the kidnapping charge.

The Hague Convention

I’ve written, and recently spoke at the Marital and Family Law Review Course, on international custody issues.

Child abduction is a growing problem. Between 2008 and 2016, nearly 10,500 children have been abducted overseas by a parent. Studies show these children are at grave risk of serious emotional and psychological problems.

The Hague Abduction Convention was meant to prevent this. It is a multilateral treaty to provide for the prompt return of a child internationally abducted by a parent from one-member country to another.

There are three essential elements to every Hague Convention case:

  • The child must be under the age of 16 years of age;
  • The wrongful removal must be a violation of the left behind parent’s “rights of custody;”
  • The left behind parent’s rights of custody “were actually being exercised or would have been exercised but for the removal.”

Aquarela do Brasil

The catch about child abduction and the The Hague Convention is that a child must be taken from one signatory country to another signatory country. However, even if two countries are signatories, compliance can be wildly different.

For example, in its 2017 report, the State Department said:

“judicial authorities in Brazil persistently failed to regularly implement and comply with the provisions of the Convention.”

Mas Que Nada

The grandparents, Carlos Otavio Guimaraes, the President of ED&F Man Brasil, and his wife, Jemima Guimaraes, were arrested in Miami after leaving Brazil. They are dual US-Brazilian citizens.

Prosecutors allege Jemima conspired to resettle her grandson in Brazil, because the child had been enrolled in her school in Brazil months before the trip.

The grandfather, Carlos Guimaraes, is also being charged. The grandfather allegedly misled the Father into consenting to the Brazil trip by emailing the Father a flight itinerary showing the mother and child flying back in July.

The New York Times article is here.