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.