Tag: child abduction

Child Custody and Timesharing Problems, and Good News on Coronavirus

The need to quarantine has not stopped child custody and timesharing problems from surfacing. In fact, it aggravates these problems as parents grapple with sharing custody and protecting themselves and their children. The Supreme Court of Texas recently resolved one issue, and there is even more good news about the coronavirus.

Child Custody Problems

Solving Child Custody Problems is Big in Texas

The coronavirus outbreak has caused urgent disputes among divorced and separated parents over exchanging the children during school closures. This forces attorneys to file emergency motions.

Many parents following their agreements about exchanging their children during and after spring break discovered a problem: this year school never re-started after spring break, so when do you return the children?

I have been working remotely during the coronavirus crisis, and resolving these problems daily. I have also been fielding a lot of calls from clients and potential clients asking about whether they were going to get their children back from the other parent, and whether they should exchange the children as agreed and ordered.

Many states handle things differently. Recently, the Texas Supreme Court weighed in. The Texas Supreme Court settled the issue of when to exchange when there is no start to school after spring break in an emergency order of the pandemic, ruling:

“For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule shall control in all instances. Possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID19 pandemic.”

Justice Debra Lehrmann said the court agreed on the solution during a teleconference to relieve a source of stress during the outbreak.

Florida Child Custody Problems

I’ve been involved in resolving and have written about child custody problems in Florida before. Here are a few tips for parents to lower or prevent your divorce or separation from ruining your holidays or draining your bank account:

Look at the timesharing schedule in your agreement or final judgment. Become familiar with exchanging children on specific holidays, dates and the times the kids are supposed to be with you, or the other parent.

Make your plans in advance and send a nicely worded confirmation email of the exchange schedule to the other parent to avoid disagreements early on.

Be flexible. Fighting during a time of great stress will only make matters worse, while fostering relationships with extended family is considered in the children’s best interest.

A little pre-planning and communication can save you a lot of emotional and financial expense. This is a national emergency and our children are exposed to the stress from those around them. Don’t make things worse. With that said, there is also . . .

Good News on Coronavirus

There is always good news, even during a pandemic.

  • The IRS has announced that the April 15, 2020 deadline for filing and payment of your individual income taxes has been extended to July 15, 2020.
  • Strangely, your second quarter estimated income tax payments are still due on June 15, 2020.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) passed. The last Senate version of the bill I read had a small business loan program allowing maximum loan amounts calculated as the lesser of the product of average total monthly payments by the applicant for payroll, mortgage payments, rent payments, and payments on any other debt obligations incurred during the 1 year period before the date on which the loan is made, or $10,000,000.
  • SCIENCE Magazine released an article it published on May 30, 1919 after the Spanish Flu pandemic about lessons learned. Very interesting reading throughout.
  • A potential universal flu vaccine has passed an important set of clinical trials.
  • A patient has been declared ‘cured’ of HIV – and it’s not even the first time, with no trace of infection in his blood 30 months after undergoing a specialized type of stem cell therapy.

The Supreme Court of Texas order is here.

 

Texas Hold ‘Em: Hague Convention and More Good News on the Coronavirus

The national emergency has not stopped international child custody and Hague child abduction cases, but definitely made them more challenging. I recently came back from trial in a Texas federal court helping a father return his daughter to Mexico, and there is good news on the coronavirus front.

Hague Child Abduction Mexico

Oh, Mexico

My client and the Mother are dual citizens of Mexico and Cuba, and met in Cancun, Mexico. They are both professional musicians. Together they have a daughter who is currently five years old.

During the early years of their relationship, they all lived together in an apartment, and traveled together. When they broke up, the Father moved to an apartment nearby, and he and his daughter would timeshare, he paid for her piano lessons, her private school tuition, and even the Mother’s rent.

On July 12, 2019, at approximately 11:30 a.m., the Mother called the Father that she had taken their daughter to an undisclosed location.

He suspected she took her to Florida, and even had a possible address for the Mother here. Unbeknownst to him, the Mother actually took their daughter to a small, west Texas town.

The same day, the Father went to the Cancun Police and filed a missing child report. A few days later, he filed a Hague application for the child’s return. He hired me to file a case in Miami federal court, which was transferred to a federal court in Texas when the child was discovered there.

Habitual Residence and the Hague Convention

While the abduction was going on, and a few days before our Texas trial, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a major Hague Child abduction case involving the habitual residence of a child.

I have written about the recent U.S. Supreme Court case before. In Monasky v. Taglieri, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the determination of a child’s “habitual residence” for purposes of the Hague Convention depends on a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis and that a district court’s habitual-residence determination should be reviewed for clear error.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides that a child wrongfully removed from his or her country of “habitual residence” must be returned to that country, which then has primary jurisdiction over any resulting custody proceedings.

A removal is “wrongful” if it is done in violation of the custody laws of the country of the child’s habitual residence. The Convention instructs that signatory states should “use the most expeditious proceedings available” to return the child to his or her habitual residence.

In Monasky, an American brought her infant daughter to Ohio from Italy after her Italian husband, Domenico Taglieri, became physically abusive. Taglieri petitioned for his daughter’s return under the Hague Convention, arguing that Italy was the daughter’s “habitual residence.”

The federal court agreed, and found the parents had exhibited a “shared intention” to raise their daughter in Italy. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed with dissents. Monasky then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that establishment of a child’s habitual residence requires actual agreement between the parents.

The Supreme Court noted that the Hague Convention does not define “habitual residence.” Relying on the treaty and decisions from the countries who are signatories, the high court concluded habitual residence it is a “fact-driven inquiry into the particular circumstances of the case.”

The Supreme Court also noted that Monasky’s ‘actual agreement’ requirement would leave many children without a habitual residence, and outside the Convention’s domain and the Hague Convention always allows a court concerned about domestic violence to not order a child’s return 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.”

Texas Hold Em

Texas Hold ‘Em?

One of the issues which had to be resolved in our trial was the habitual residence of the child, and whether the parents shared an intent to abandon it. During our trial in Texas, the U.S. District Court found the parents did not share an intent to change the child’s habitual residence, among other defenses, and ordered the child returned to the Father and to her home in Mexico.

Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s, brand new decision, the federal court found the daughter’s habitual residence is Mexico, and that she was wrongfully removed to the United States in violation of the Hague Convention.

At the same time the Coronavirus was raging across the world, the U.S. government just ordered the border with Canada closed, courts were closing around the country, and there was a real concern we wouldn’t be able to return to Mexico.

But we faced another, potentially bigger problem. How do you enforce a federal court order to return a child to Mexico when the entire world is shutting down? The alternative to us moving immediately to secure the child’s return to Mexico would be to ‘hold em’ in Texas. Acting quickly, the father and daughter made it safely home to the habitual residence of Mexico.

Good News and the Coronavirus

We are under quarantine, and we can expect that to continue in the near future. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some good news to report. For instance:

  • Distilleries across the U.S. are making their own alcohol-based hand sanitizers and giving it away for free.
  • Restaurants, sports, and businesses are stepping up to combat the community effects of the novel coronavirus. The sports world is raising money for stadium employees, and Uber Eats is divvying out free delivery to help independent restaurants to name a few.

Air and Water pollution has plummeted in cities with high numbers of quarantined individuals. In fact, Venice’s waters are running clear for the first time and people are seeing fish.

  • China is re-opening parks and athletic centers, and loosening travel restrictions as the novel coronavirus comes under control in China, and parks and tourist attractions have reopened across the country.
  • Neighbors across the country are stepping up to make grocery runs for those who can’t leave their homes.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision is here.

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.

 

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.

 

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.