Category: International Child Custody

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.

New Article Hague Abduction Convention Not Your Typical Custody Case

My new article “The Hague Abduction Convention: Not Your Typical Custody Case”, discusses a problem frequently encountered by lawyers representing parents in international child custody disputes. The problem is parents treating their Hague Abduction Convention case as if it were any other custody case. The article is now available on the KidSide website.

Hague Court

Hague Abduction Convention

The Hague Abduction Convention is the primary mechanism to ensure the return of children who have been wrongfully removed or retained from their country of habitual residence. The two main purposes behind the Convention are to protect children from the harm of an international abduction and secure the left behind parent’s rights of access to their child.

However, many parents confuse the purposes of the Convention, mistakenly thinking their best defense rests on proving what a better parent they are. It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that the judge in a Convention case does not even have jurisdiction to hear their child custody dispute.

But before any defenses are even asserted, a parent seeking a child’s return must first prove their case. To prove a case under the Convention, a Petitioner must demonstrate where the habitual residence of the child was before the wrongful removal; that the removal breached custody rights; and at the time of the child’s removal those rights were actually exercised.

There are a limited number of available defenses under the Hague Abduction Convention, and those defenses are different from a typical child custody case. They are different because the purposes of the Convention are different. Given that courts in a Convention case cannot decide the merits of the custody dispute, typical arguments about the best interest of the child don’t have much traction, leaving a limited number of defenses.

KidSide

Child abduction cases under the Hague Convention have a negative impact on children. Add to that, the growing number of high-conflict court cases, like divorce and domestic violence. Because of the growing number of high-conflict cases, there is always a lack of support for kids caught in the legal system.

That’s where KidSide comes in.

KidSide is a 501(c)3 which supports the Family Court Services Unit of the Miami-Dade County, Florida courthouse – the largest judicial circuit in Florida. KidSide can use your support as it supports Family Court Services.

Together, they have been providing crucial services to children and families for more than 20 years. The Unit assists all judges and general magistrates with some of the Court’s most difficult family cases by providing solution-focused and brief therapeutic interventions.

KidSide helps the Family Court Services Unit provide services for families at no cost in the areas of alienation, child/family assistance, co-parenting, crisis assistance, marital reconciliation, parenting coordination, reunification, time-sharing, supervised visitation, and monitored exchanges.

They are staffed with dedicated professionals who are committed to helping families reduce their level of conflict and provide supportive services for the entire family system with particular sensitivity to children.

You can support KidSide by clicking here.

The Kidside article is here.

International Child Custody and the Death Penalty

Whether a U.S. state court will have subject matter jurisdiction over a foreign order in an international child custody case turns on whether a parent is subject to the death penalty in the country originally granting child custody. That painful issue is addressed in a recent appeal from the state of Washington.

Custody Death Penalty

Desert Heat

The Father, Ghassan, appealed a Washington state court’s jurisdiction and award of custody of his child, ZA, to the Mother Bethany. Ghassan and Bethany married in Saudi Arabia in 2013. Bethany is a U.S. citizen, and Ghassan is a citizen of Saudi Arabia. The couple had one child, ZA, in Saudi Arabia.

In 2017, Bethany filed for divorce in Saudi Arabia. In January 2019, a Saudi judge granted the divorce and custody of ZA to Bethany. But then in April, the father sued for custody of ZA on behalf of the paternal grandmother. The parties had a bitter custody battle in which the father accused Bethany of gender mixing, adultery, and insulting Islam.

The father presented damning evidence in the Saudi family court, including photographs of the mother in a bikini in the U.S., and a video of her doing yoga.

Adultery, insulting Islam, and insulting Saudi Arabia are crimes in Saudi Arabia which carry the death penalty. The Saudi judge derided Bethany as a foreigner, who embraced western cultural traditions, and even worse, lamented the child spoke fluent English!

The Saudi court awarded custody to the paternal grandmother who lived with the father. Bethany wisely reconciled with her ex, and convinced him to give her custody rights in exchange for her forfeiting child support. With the father’s permission to travel to Washington for a visit with her family, the mother and daughter left the sand dunes of Arabia for the Evergreen State.

The Battle Near-ish Seattle

Bethany filed a petition for temporary emergency jurisdiction under the UCCJEA and then a permanent parenting plan and child support. The father moved to dismiss for lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction. In the alternative, he asked the court to enforce the Saudi Arabia custody order and waiver of all financial rights.

The family court denied enforcement of the Saudi order and the mother’s waiver of child support. The family court ruled that Washington had jurisdiction in a custody case if “the child custody law of a foreign country violates fundamental principles of human rights.” The father appealed.

Then in 2021, Washington amended its UCCJEA to add a provision that Washington need not recognize another country’s custody order if:

the law of a foreign country holds that apostasy, or a sincerely held religious belief or practice, or homosexuality are punishable by death, and a parent or child may be at demonstrable risk of being subject to such laws.

On appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals applied Washington’s new amendment to the UCCJEA. The Court of Appeals ruled that a Washington court need not enforce the Saudi child custody decree, and may exercise jurisdiction over custody, because Saudi Arabia punishes “apostacy” by death.

The Court of Appeals found that ample evidence supported the family judge’s ruling that the mother faced a death sentence if she returned to Saudi Arabia for her religious and political beliefs. Additionally, the father did not dispute that Bethany could receive the death sentence on her return to Saudi Arabia.

The unpublished opinion is here.

Child Abduction and the Grave Risk Exception

Few people outside of international family law attorneys know that even if a child abduction is proven, courts don’t have to return a child if the grave risk exception, or another treaty defense, is proved. The grave risk defense took center stage at a recent appeal of a child abduction case.

brazil child abduction

Garota De Ipanema

The mother, Dos Santos, and the father, Silva, met in 2011 in Brazil. They have one child together, a daughter who was born in 2012 in Brazil. The three lived together in Brazil until April 2020, when the parents separated.

In August 2021, the mother left Brazil with their daughter and traveled to the United States. The mother did so without the father’s consent to move the child permanently. to the US.

After he learned that his daughter was in the US, the father filed an application with the Brazilian central authority for the return of his child under the Hague Convention. The Brazilian government referred the matter to the United States Department of State-the United States’s central authority under the Convention.

No one disputed at trial that the mother wrongly removed her daughter from the her habitual residence in Brazil and from the lawful joint custody of her father, and abducted her to the US. Normally, that would mean the child would be promptly returned to Brazil.

But the mother claimed returning their daughter posed a grave risk that the child will be exposed to physical or psychological harm or an otherwise intolerable situation.

Hague Child Abduction Convention

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction under the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

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.

While there are several defenses to a return of a child, the grave risk defense is one of the frequently relied on, and misunderstood defenses available under the Convention.

Mas que nada

Generally, the Hague Convention has six exceptions. In the recent Brazilian case, the mother alleged the grave risk defense. Under this defense, return to Brazil is not required if there is a grave risk that return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.

However, the grave-risk exception is narrowly construed and has a higher burden of proof than most of the other defenses. At the trial, the judge found that the mother had failed to establish that the child will face a grave risk of physical or psychological harm should she be returned to Brazil.

Without an established exception, the trial court granted the father’s petition for return of the child to Brazil

The Mother appealed and the appellate court reversed. The mother described an altercation between the father and her subsequent boyfriend which may have been videotaped. But the video recording was not brought in as evidence. The court also heard from two other witnesses who saw the mother with bruises and a witness who testified about threatening social media messages.

Importantly, the trial judge didn’t believe the father’s testimony. To the appellate court, that meant the trial judge should have considered the father’s testimony as corroborating substantive evidence that the mother’s allegations were true.

Because the trial judge thought there were some issues with the father, including “anger management issues” and “making threats to people”, a majority of the appellate panel felt the trial judge mistakenly felt her hands were tied.

The appellate decision is here.

International Child Abduction Compliance Report

Each year, a country’s compliance with laws governing international child abduction is evaluated in a report issued by the U.S. Department of State. These annual reports show Congress the countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance. They also show if any countries cited in the past improved.

Compliance Report

2023 Report

Under the Hague Convention, the U.S. State Department is tasked as our Central Authority. The Central Authority facilitates implementation and operation of the Hague Convention on child abduction in the U.S.

After passage of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, the State Department was later assigned the duty of submitting annual Action Reports on International Child Abduction to Congress on the specific actions taken in response to countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance.

In 2022, a total of 165 abducted children were returned to the United States.

The 2023 Annual Report is an overview of the Department’s efforts to support the resolution of international parental child abduction cases.

The Department also reports on their work with foreign governments and authorities to promote procedures to encourage the prompt resolution of existing international abduction cases. The aim is that, in general, international custody disputes should be resolved in the competent court of the country of the child’s habitual residence.

Countries which don’t meet their Convention obligations, or fail to work with the U.S. to resolve child abduction cases, can face “appropriate actions.”

Florida International Child Abduction

I’ve written and spoken about international child abduction compliance under the Hague Convention before. The Hague Convention seeks to deter child abductions by a parent 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 it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, 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.

The Hague Convention is implemented in the United States through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act. Then in 2014, the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act was signed into law.

Even if a country is a signatory country and treaty partners with the U.S., returning a wrongfully retained or abducted child may still be complicated because some signatory countries are not complying with the Convention. That is where the State Department’s annual reporting comes in.

ICAPRA increases the State Department’s annual reporting requirements. Each year, the Department not only submits an Annual Report on International Child Abduction to Congress, it submits another report on the actions taken towards countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina

The State Department reports include both countries where there is a treaty relationship with the United States under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, and countries where no treaty relationship exists, such as Russia.

The 2023 Action Report reviews the results of cases which were resolved the previous year. Some of the countries in our hemisphere which failed to regularly implement and comply with the Hague Convention include Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras, and Peru.

The Convention has been in force between the United States and Argentina since 1991.  In 2022, Argentina had continued to demonstrate a pattern of noncompliance.  Specifically, the Argentine judicial authorities failed to regularly implement and comply with the provisions of the Convention.

As a result of this failure, 50 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the Convention remained unresolved for more than 12 months. Granted, there was only 2 abduction cases in Argentina. One case was resolved with the return of the child, and the other one is still unresolved after a year. Argentina was previously cited for demonstrating a pattern of noncompliance in the 2015-2022 Annual Reports.

ICAPRA also adds steps the U.S. can take when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children. The steps can include: a demarche (a petition or protest through diplomatic channels); public condemnation; delay or cancelation of official, or state visits; suspension of U.S. development assistance; and even the withdrawal or suspension of U.S. security assistance.

The 2023 Report is available here.

Speaking on International Child Custody in Morocco

Looking forward to speaking about international child custody on a panel with IAFL fellow attorneys: Sarah Hutchinson from England, Elisha D. Roy from the U.S., and Frances Goldsmith from France. We will be discussing international issues arising under the UCCJEA for non-U.S. attorneys.

UCCJEA Moroccoa

Hot Child Custody Issues

From the beaches of Sarasota to the Sahara desert, international child custody today is a hot issue – and admittedly a little dry too. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA) and The Hague Convention on international child abductions are two well-known laws with international importance which can impact your case.

Parents are increasingly moving from country to country for various reasons. Whether children are moved by parents wrongfully or not, that moving makes international child custody complicated.

The UCCJEA is a uniform state law regarding jurisdiction in child custody cases. It specifies which court should decide a custody case, not how the court should decide the case. The  UCCJEA and The Hague Convention on Child Abduction can overlap in certain cases, and the jurisdiction of each law can differ in important ways too.

Florida and almost all U.S. states passed the UCCJEA into law. The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case, enforce an existing child custody determination, and modify one. There are also several foreign laws which can interact with your child custody determination.

More information on the IAFL can be found here.

The Hague Convention Meets the Best Interest Test

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child determined that the Supreme Court of Chile violated the rights of a child after ordering the child returned to his habitual residence of Spain without applying the best interest test.

Hague Convention Best Interest Test

Answering An Andes Abduction

The Mother is a national of Chile. In 2015, she married the Father, a national of Spain. In January 2016, her son J.M., a dual Spanish Chilean citizen, was born in Chile. The Mother and her son left Chile to live with the Father in Spain in November 2016.

When J.M. was a little over a year old and living in Spain with both parents, medical professionals suspected he had a language delay and a form of autism.

Shortly after this spectrum diagnosis, the mother wanted to bring J.M. to Chile where she had arranged his treatment and support plan. The mother wanted to stay in Chile for at least two years.

In July 2017, the father signed an authorization for the mother to travel with J.M. to Chile, where the mother scheduled treatments and support for autism. They decided to stay in the country for at least two years. and had the father’s written approval to travel.

In 2018, one year after authorizing the travel, the father filed a complaint with the Central Authority in Spain, the Ministry of Justice, for wrongful abduction and/or retention of J.M. under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

In January 2019, two lower courts in Chile agreed with the Mother and rejected the father’s return petition. The courts rejected the father’s claim on the grounds that he had given the tacit, even explicit, consent to remain in Chile, which has been the child’s place of habitual residence since birth.

In September 2019, the Supreme Court of Chile overturned the lower courts’ decisions and ordered the child returned to Spain. The Supreme Court did not indicate the conditions under which J.M.’s return should take place, in whose company he should travel, or where and with whom he would ultimately reside and in what circumstances.

The Mother filed a complaint before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child  in 2020.

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.

While there are several defenses to a return of a child, the best interest of the child is not one of those defenses. That’s because the Hague Convention prioritizes expeditious determinations as being in the best interests of the child.

UN-Heard Of

The U.N. Committee held that the Chile Supreme Court’s order for the restitution of J.M. to Spain failed to conduct a best interests assessment required in all actions concerning children, and violated the child’s procedural guarantees under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Committee noted that, under the Hague Convention, decisions on the return of children must be taken promptly to ensure that the child’s normal situation is duly restored. However, the Committee considered that the purpose and objective of the Hague Convention does not entail that a return of the child should be automatically ordered.

The Committee held that in international child abduction cases, states must first assess the factors that may constitute an exception to the duty to immediately return the child under articles 12, 13 and 20 of the Hague Convention, and then secondly, these factors must be evaluated in the light of the best interests of the child.

The Committee did not find that the child should necessarily remain in Chile. Instead, it found that the Supreme Court of Chile failed to apply the necessary procedural safeguards to ensure that return would not expose the child to harm or a situation contrary to his best interests:

A court applying the Hague Convention cannot be required to carry out the same level of examination of the best interests of the child as the courts called upon to decide on custody, visitation arrangements or other related issues . . . the judge ruling on the return must assess . . . the extent to which the return would expose him or her to physical or psychological harm or otherwise be clearly against his or her best interests.

The U.N. Committee ruled that Chile should re-assess the return petition, take into account the length of time elapsed, the extent of J.M.’s integration in Chile, and pay reparations for the violations suffered, including compensation.

The Committee also ruled that Chile should try a little harder to prevent future violations by ensuring the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in decisions concerning international return.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child press release is here.

International Child Abduction Action Report

Every year international child abduction cases are reported to the Congress by the U.S. Department of State. These annual Action Reports show Congress the actions taken against countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance. So, which countries in our hemisphere were noncompliant?

International Abduction Action Report

2022 Action Report

Under the Hague Convention, the State Department is tasked as our Central Authority. The Central Authority facilitates implementation and operation of the Hague Convention on child abduction in the U.S.

After passage of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, the State Department was later assigned the duty of submitting annual Action Reports on International Child Abduction to Congress on the specific actions taken in response to countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance.

The 2022 Annual Report is an overview of the Department’s efforts to support the resolution of international parental child abduction cases.

The Department also reports on their work with foreign governments and authorities to promote procedures to encourage the prompt resolution of existing international abduction cases. The aim is that, in general, international custody disputes should be resolved in the competent court of the country of the child’s habitual residence.

Countries which don’t meet their Convention obligations, or fail to work with the U.S. to resolve child abduction cases, can face “appropriate actions.”

Florida International Child Abduction

I’ve written and spoken about international child abduction cases under the Hague Convention before. The Hague Convention seeks to deter child abductions by a parent 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 it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, 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.

The Hague Convention is implemented in the United States through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act. Then in 2014, the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act was signed into law.

Even if a country is a signatory country and treaty partners with the U.S., returning a wrongfully retained or abducted child may still be complicated because some signatory countries are not complying with the Convention. That is where the State Department’s Action Report comes in.

ICAPRA increases the State Department’s annual reporting requirements. Each year, the Department not only submits an Annual Report on International Child Abduction to Congress, it submits another report on the actions taken towards countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance.

A Carnival of Noncompliance

The State Department Action Report includes both countries where there is a treaty relationship with the United States under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, and countries where no treaty relationship exists.

The 2022 Action Report reviews the results of cases which were resolved the previous year. Some of the countries in our hemisphere which failed to regularly implement and comply with the Hague Convention include Argentina, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil.

Brazil has had the Convention in force with the U.S. since 2003. Brazil has also demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance for years. Complaints have criticized its judicial authorities for failing to regularly implement and comply with the Convention, and failing to take appropriate steps to locate children in abduction cases. Brazil has previously been cited for a pattern of noncompliance since 2006.

Brazil is also the country where David Goldman had to fight for his son Sean to be returned to the United States after his wrongful retention by his mother. Sean was only returned to the U.S. after 5 years. The Goldman’s bitter experience in Brazil led to the passage of the ICAPRA.

However, the country of Brazil is not entirely on siesta. Among other steps, Brazil increased its number of Hague Network Judges, published a manual for judges hearing Convention cases, and resolved eight U.S. cases on file – including the return of six children to the United States.

ICAPRA also adds steps the U.S. can take when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children. The steps can include: a demarche (a petition or protest through diplomatic channels); public condemnation; delay or cancelation of official, or state visits; suspension of U.S. development assistance; and even the withdrawal or suspension of U.S. security assistance.

The 2022 Action Report is available here.

Hague Convention, Domestic Violence, and Rights of Custody

Questions arise about a parent’s right of custody in every international custody case, especially Hague Convention child abduction cases. A Colorado district court recently had to make the tough call whether a parent lost his rights of custody after a domestic violence injunction was put in place against him.

Hague Rights of Custody

Rocky Mountain High

In February 2015, an Australian citizen and a United States citizen married in Las Vegas. They lived in the U.S. for the next two years before traveling to Australia with their three-month-old son – who was born in Australia. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, taking numerous trips, moving frequently between rental properties, staying occasionally with family and friends, and camping in a trailer and tent.

In April 2021, while staying at an Airbnb, the parents had an argument which resulted in the Father being escorted to the police station. By the time he returned to the Airbnb, the Mother had left. The Mother had also obtained a temporary protection order against the father based on allegations of domestic violence.

The domestic violence protection order provided the Father:

must not approach to within 100 metres of where [Mother or the children] live[ ], work[ ] or frequent[ ]—except for the purposes of having contact with children but only as set out in writing between the parties or in compliance with an order under the Family Law Act or when contact with a child is authorised by a representative of the Department of Communities (Child Safety).

The order also provides that Father “must not contact or attempt to contact or arrange for someone else (other than a lawyer) to contact” Respondent or the children . . . and “must not follow or remain or approach to within 100 metres” of Mother or the children. The order was subsequently made permanent for a period of five years.

In May 2021, the Mother and the children came to the United States, and they have lived in Colorado ever since. The Father filed an action seeking return of the children under the Hague Convention and in breach of his custody rights under Australian law.

International Child Custody and the Hague 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 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.

Rights of custody can arise by operation of law or by reason of a judicial or administrative decision, or by reason of an agreement having legal effect under the law of that State. Rights of custody include rights relating to the care of the person of the child and, in particular, the right to determine the child’s place of residence.

Slippery Slope

The Colorado judge found that the Father failed to show what custody rights, if any, he retained under the Australian Family Law Act. After the domestic violence injunction was made permanent for five years, the Father had the burden to prove what his rights of custody were after the injunction — a prerequisite to establishing that his children’s removal was in breach of his rights of custody.

The Father gave no evidence or testimony on the matter and the Court did not want to assume what remaining rights he had after the order and whether they were substantial enough that  removal of the children breached his rights.

Not every court has held that the entry of a domestic violence injunction meant the loss of rights of custody under the Hague Convention. In a Maryland case, a court found that a domestic violence injunction was aimed at protecting the safety of the Mother, rather than rescinding parental rights of the Father. Accordingly, the domestic violence injunction was not found to be the equivalent of an order rescinding parental rights.

The case is available here.