Tag: International Alimony

China Child Custody and Abduction Problem

Child custody and abduction has become a big problem in little China. Experts argue about 80,000 children in China are estimated to have been abducted and hidden in divorce cases in 2019. Newly passed family laws in China may help resolve this problem.

China child abduction

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Child

As CNN reports, the child abductions mostly involved fathers snatching their sons aged six years old and under. Although the 80,000 estimate is based on 2019 divorce figures, legal experts say it reflects a consistent trend seen each year – and the real figure may be much higher, since many cases might not be publicly available or settled out of court.

China is proposing a new child protection law making it illegal for parents to “snatch and hide” their children to win custody battles. The amendments, which go into effect on June 1, were praised by some as a crucial step in protecting children and mothers.

But years of loose regulations and a hands-off approach by Chinese authorities have sowed doubts as to whether a new law will change anything, say experts on family law and parental abduction.

In many cases, the abducting parent moves and hides the children, typically with the help of their parents or family members. The left behind parent, usually the mother, is blocked from seeing their child because they don’t even know where their child is.

Florida Child Custody and Child Abduction

I’ve written and lectured on the problem of child abductions before. My new Florida Bar Journal article Like Home: The New Definition of Habitual Residence, discusses child abductions under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Oct. 25, 1980 and the federal International Child Abduction Remedies Act.

In Florida there are a few civil laws helping parents who are the victim of child snatching. There are also criminal laws at the state and federal levels which can result in prison time.

Florida adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The law was intended to make it harder for parents to snatch their children and take them across state lines to a state more likely to rule in their favor.

The Hague Convention is a treaty our county signed to deter child abductions by eliminating their primary motivation for doing so: to “deprive the abduction parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.”

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.”

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.

Joyless Bad Luck Club

In China, joint custody is rare. Usually after a breakup, children go with one parent rather than as co-parents. The tradition of a parent taking a child away from the other parent, when there’s a parental separation, is something that’s been in existence for a long time.

In China, it is suspected that in “at least half” of divorce disputes regarding child custody, parents “hide the children for various reasons.

Under the new family law, “it is not allowed to compete for custody rights by snatching or hiding underage children.” Those who violate the articles may “bear civil liability in accordance with the law,” or face unspecified penalties, according to the law.

Women have since been speaking out about their experiences with abusive partners or child abduction, with some high-profile cases helping increase visibility around the issue. Even government officials have spoken out in support of changing the marriage and custody law, including a delegate of the National People’s Congress.

There are additional steps that could be taken — providing protections for visitation rights during the divorce period, or laying out clearer standards on which behaviors constitute “snatching and hiding” children, said Chen, the chief of the Guangzhou court, in the Xinhua article.

By 2019, the amendments to the law were already being drafted and deliberated by the country’s legislative body, though the final articles still fell short of clearly defining the parameters and repercussions of the offence.

For mothers who have lost custody or visitation of their children, the new law comes too late.

The CNN article is here.

Recognizing International Divorce Decrees

Turkey’s Court of Cassation is not recognizing the international divorce decrees of other countries if they are against public policy. Turkey’s high court recently threw out a lower court verdict that a man’s divorce from his wife in Saudi Arabia is valid in Turkey. The “triple talaq”, or “unilateral” divorce contradicted with “Turkish public order as it ignored the woman’s will.”

Coffee Grounds for Divorce

A Marmara Marriage

The Supreme Court of Appeals of Turkey, which was founded in 1868, is the last instance for reviewing verdicts given by courts of criminal and civil justice. The Supreme Court recently announced that it is rejecting a verdict related to a 2016 divorce case approved by a Family Court in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The sides were a Turkish citizen of Afghan origin and his wife, an Afghan citizen.

When the man, unidentified in court documents made public, filed a lawsuit for recognition of the divorce, a local court approved it. However, the wife took the case to a higher court, seeking to annul the divorce. The higher court of appeals rejected her appeal but the Court of Cassation, the ultimate authority in such cases, sided with the woman.

The court reasoned that although divorce cases settled abroad can be recognized in Turkey, the court should examine whether the divorce verdicts comply with “basic values of Turkish law, Turkish morals, basic rights and freedoms and shared values of developed communities and level of civilization.”

The top court said women and men have equal rights under the Turkish constitution. “The recognized verdict of (the Saudi) court is based on a document on talaq (unilateral divorce) and the wife is deemed divorced after a period of three months when she is not reunited with her husband. As a matter of fact, there is no divorce verdict in this case.

Such a verdict is based on a one-sided declaration of the husband and his claim of failure to reunion within three months ignores the woman’s free will and hence, openly contradicts with Turkish public order,” the court said.

Florida Religion and Divorce

I’ve written about the triple talaq and other aspects of religious divorces before. How does religion impact Florida divorce? First, there can be issues relating to parental responsibility Religion, religious beliefs, and religious practices are not specific statutory factors in determining parental responsibility. Nor are religion and religious practices areas in which a parent may be granted ultimate responsibility. Instead, the weight religion plays in custody disputes incubated over time in various cases.

For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

In Florida, a determination of the best interests of the child is made by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family.

There is also international divorce jurisdiction angle when a divorce is based on religion. Florida, under the UCCJEA provides a general legal framework for recognition and enforcement of foreign custody and visitation decrees originating from foreign jurisdictions.

A foreign country is treated as a “state” for purposes of applying the UCCJEA. The UCCJEA, like the Hague Convention, can also be used to seek the return of a child from Florida to a foreign country.

But there are limits, as Turkey’s high court recently found. For example, when the foreign law itself fails to recognize a fundamental public policy tenet, such as considering the best interests of the child, the courts of Florida may decline to recognize the judgment. However, whether the foreign court has properly applied its law is a question for the foreign jurisdiction.

Triple Talaq

Saudi Arabia adheres to an interpretation of Islamic law though there is no written law. Triple Talaq allows Muslim men to leave their wives instantaneously by saying “talaq,” meaning divorce three times. In Saudi Arabia Men are granted the right to talaq and, until recently, the courts were not required to immediately inform women that their husbands unilaterally divorced them.

Unilateral divorce is exclusive to men while women are entitled to khul or khal, a type of divorce where the husband should agree to pay back the dowry of the wife seeking divorce.

Men also remain the woman’s “guardian” throughout divorce proceedings in the country where most things women seek to do require the company of a male guardian, from travel to marriage.

Turkey’s Daily Sabah article is here.

Divorce and Alimony Laws Changed in China

Divorce and alimony laws changed in China this year. Under the new Civil Code, a judge just ordered a man to pay thousands of dollars to his former wife for housework she did during their five-year marriage. In China, they call it a landmark ruling.

Divorce Alimony China

New Chinese Divorce Laws

The new Civil Code of China became effective on January 1, 2021. Both spouses are treated equally under the law and are equally entitled and obligated to take care of the children and support each other.

So, if parents do not sufficiently perform their duties caring for their children, the child may demand reasonable maintenance costs from the parents.

Children do not get off easy either. The new code makes children obligated to support their parents. Adult children are generally obligated to support their parents if they can no longer work or otherwise provide for their livelihood.

In the landmark ruling, the wife demanded $24,700 from her husband after he filed for divorce. The wife said she was left to take care of the couple’s child and do the housework alone, and her husband barely cared about or participated in any kind of domestic chores.

The family court ordered the husband to pay her $7,700 as “housework compensation,” after splitting their joint property equally. Wife was also awarded custody of their son and $300 per month in alimony.

The ruling is the first of its kind under China’s new civil code.

Florida Divorce and Alimony

Divorce and alimony are nothing new in Florida. I’ve written about subject of alimony in Florida. In every Florida dissolution of marriage case, the court can grant alimony to either party – husband or wife.

Not many people realize there are several types of alimony in Florida: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent alimony.

Florida courts can also award a combination of alimony types in a divorce. Alimony awards are normally paid in periodic payments, but sometimes the payments can be in a lump sum or both lump sum and periodic payments.

In determining whether to award alimony or not, the court has to first make a determination as to whether a wife or a husband, has an actual need for alimony, and whether the other party has the ability to pay alimony.

Typically, courts consider any type of earned income or compensation — that is, income resulting from employment or other efforts — along with recurring passive income, such as dividends on your investments, in establishing the amount of support you will be responsible to pay.

In Florida, once a court determines there is a need and the income available to pay alimony – sometimes referred to as the ability to pay alimony – it has to decide the proper type and amount of alimony. In doing so, the court considers several factors, some of which may include:

  • The standard of living established during the marriage.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.
  • The financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.
  • The earning capacities, educational levels, vocational skills, and employability of the parties and, when applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate.

But, after establishing Hightower’s need for alimony, how much dinero is there to determine De Niro’s ability to pay?

Chinese Divorce Express

China’s new Civil Code provides two ways to divorce, either the simple official registration of the divorce with a joint application or divorce proceedings in court.

If everyone signs a marital settlement agreement, a divorce can be registered with the authorities if both spouses file a corresponding divorce application. A short cooling off period of 30 days applies.

In contested cases, the court initially acts as a family mediation court, tries to prevent the divorce or reach a settlement of the conflict. If unsuccessful, and the court considers the marriage to be irretrievably broken, the court orders the divorce.

Interestingly, a husband may not apply for divorce if his wife is pregnant or within one year of the birth, or within six months of the end of the pregnancy. The only exceptions are if the wife herself applies for divorce or if the court considers it necessary to grant the husband’s divorce application.

If the divorced spouses have a child under 2 years of age, the mother generally receives custody. In the case of a child between 2 and 8 years of age, if the parents cannot reach an agreement, the court can decide which parent will be given custody. If the child is older than 8 years, his or her preference must be taken into account.

The recent landmark ruling became a trending topic on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, viewed more than 500 million times. While some comments applauded the ruling as a recognition of the hard, unpaid labor at home, others said the amount awarded was too little to cover five years of housework and childcare.

Unequal gender roles in domestic life have been a topic of public debate in China in recent years amid a rising feminist movement. Despite increasing education levels and women’s growing economic status, gender norms and patriarchal traditions have not caught up with these changes, and women are still expected to carry out most of the childcare and housework after marriage.

Housework compensation is designed to offer additional protection to spouses who have undertaken more domestic chores — and sacrificed opportunities to advance their career or education, according to legal experts.

For the spouse who has been working quietly at home, they will have to face the problem of returning to work, which means that the homemaker has to pay a hidden cost in addition to the efforts they paid during the marriage.

The right to seek housework compensation in divorce proceedings is not a new concept in Chinese law. In 2001, housework compensation was added to a revision of China’s marriage law with the precondition that it only applied to couples who agreed to separation of property, in which each spouse retains exclusive ownership of property acquired during the marriage.

Divorce rates in China have climbed nearly five times in the past three decades. According to government statistics, there were 0.69 divorces per thousand people in 1990. By 2019, the latest figures available, that number stood at 3.36.

Now that the new civil code is in force, the judge said she expected more cases involving demands for housework compensation to be filed. But in practice, we still need to accumulate experience in how to meter out the amount of compensation.

The CNN article is here.

Cooling Off Divorce in China

A new law in China, which makes it harder for couples to divorce because of the cooling off period, has sent husbands and wives rushing to file applications to dissolve their marriages.

China Divorce

Divorce Express

Under the new Chinese law, which was implemented on January 1st, couples who agree to dissolve their marriage must complete a month-long “cooling-off” period to reconsider their positions. After the 30 days have passed, couples can go to their local civil affairs bureau to apply a second time for their official divorce documents.

Divorce lawyers have been inundated with requests from couples to file for divorce once their 30 days are up.

In some cities, the demand for consultations with divorce lawyers is so high that scalpers are charging premium prices online to help couples secure appointments.

A lawyer based in Sichuan province who specializes in divorce, says he has already received numerous phone calls from anxious clients concerned that the new law complicates their divorce and compromises their freedom to split.

If one party withdraws from the agreement to divorce before the 30 days are up, the application is cancelled, leaving the other party to apply again and restart the 30-day clock, or to sue for a divorce – a costly and lengthy process.

One client was a rubber stamp away from having her divorce finalized when her husband changed his mind. Even before the cooling-off period was introduced, it was easy for one party to a mutually agreed divorce to change their mind. Now, with the 30-day period, the divorce process is too unpredictable.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written on divorce issues and divorce planning. In Florida, a divorce is called a “dissolution of marriage.” Florida is one of the many states that have abolished fault as a ground for dissolution of marriage.

The only requirement to dissolve a marriage is for one of the parties to prove that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Either spouse can file for the dissolution of marriage.

You must prove that a marriage exists, one party has been a Florida resident for six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, and the marriage is irretrievably broken.

The reason for the irretrievable breakdown, however, may be considered under certain limited circumstances in the determination of alimony, equitable distribution of marital assets and debts, and the development of the parenting plan.

While the coronavirus pandemic has caused a spike in divorce filings in Florida, there have not been reports of scalpers yet. The divorce process can be very emotional and traumatic for couples as well as their kids. Spouses often do not know their legal rights and obligations. Court clerks and judges can answer some basic questions but cannot give legal advice.

The Mediation Exception

When the Chinese law was passed last year, Chinese citizens criticized the central government for interfering in private matters. More than 600 million comments were posted online using the hashtag “oppose divorce cooling-off period”. It became the top trending topic online, with internet users demanding to know if Chinese people no longer had the freedom to divorce as they chose.

Officials believed the legislation would lower the divorce rate in China, which has risen rapidly, and prevent “impulsive divorces” among young people. Lockdowns to stop the spread of coronavirus have coincided with a spike in the divorce rate.

Couples may be able to avoid delays in settling their affairs by applying for mediation instead of filing for divorce.

Mediation is a process that helps separating and divorcing couples find amicable solutions to their disputes. The process uses an impartial third party, a family mediator, who is trained in mediation. In mediation, if both parties reach an agreement, the court issues a document that carries the same weight as a divorce decree.

The new law also does not apply if a spouse files for divorce on the grounds that they are a victim of domestic violence. However, the law would still disadvantage women, particularly those without an independent source of income.

That’s because men can decide whether they want to divorce or retract their application. If a woman wants to and the man doesn’t, the woman will then have to sue, hiring a lawyer at great personal and financial cost. Many women – particularly full-time housewives – aren’t in a position to do this.

Another way around the new law is for couples to sign a prenuptial contract on childcare arrangements and the division of property in the event of a split. That way if, during the month-long cooling-off period, one party changed their mind, the contract already in place would streamline the process.

The rights of Chinese citizens to marry and divorce has long been a matter for public debate. In December, weeks before the law brought in the cooling-off period for divorcing couples, a woman in Shaanxi province, northwest China, filed for divorce after “being beaten by my husband for 40 years”, according to public court documents on the website Chinese Judgements Online.

The judge refused to grant a divorce, saying the couple had been together for 40 years and would need each other in their later years. “She should cherish her hard-earned happiness in her later years,” the judge wrote on the case file.

The South China Morning Post article is here.

 

Divorce Rates in Italy

Divorce rates in Italy appear to be skyrocketing, along with the divorce rates in the rest of the world, fueled by the coronavirus, the quarantine, financial stress and many other factors. The news out of Italy is consistent with what is happening in Florida too, as more people begin filing for divorce.

Divorce Rates Italy

Arrivederci

According to Italy’s National Divorce Association (l’Associazione nazionale divorzisti italiani) the divorce rate increased by 60% in 2020. The requests for separation have increased a lot, mainly due to forced coexistence,” the association’s president, family lawyer Matteo Santini, told Sky TG24.

In 40 percent of cases, the divorces were due to the fact that lockdown made it more difficult to hide infidelity and “double lives”.

Another 30 percent of separations were due to domestic violence, and the remaining 30 percent were listed as being down to other causes.

“It’s one thing to share weekends and evenings but another to share the whole day, with all the problems related to the health emergency: health stress due to illness, lack of work, living with children with difficulties related to distance learning. This causes an emotional explosion that leads to the desire for separation and the request for separation.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written about no-fault divorces before. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery.

This often required additional expenses on behalf of the aggrieved party, only serving to make the divorce process more expensive and cumbersome than it already was.

In the years leading up to the enactment of “no-fault” divorce, courts often granted divorces on bases that were easier to prove, the most common being “mental cruelty.”

Over time, the “no-fault” movement expanded to other states, although interestingly it only reached the typically progressive state of New York in 2010. Whether or not it is intimacy or communication, you do not need to list a reason for a divorce other than an irretrievable break in the marriage.

Divorce Law Change

As with many sets of statistics in Italy, there was a marked difference between the north and south of the country. There were more than twice as many separations recorded in the north in 2020, with 450 per thousand couples in the north, and 200 in southern Italy.

Italy, where more than 80 percent of people describe themselves as Catholic, has long had one of Europe’s lowest divorce rates, with only Ireland, Slovenia, and Malta reporting lower figures.

Divorce numbers in the country however surged in 2015 after the enactment of legislation making it easier and quicker to end failed marriages.

The 2015, “fast divorce law”, which the lower house approved with an overwhelming vote of 398 for and 28 against, cuts the time Italians have to wait for a divorce to six months in uncontested cases and a year in contested ones.

Several Italian studies have confirmed that the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis is having a major impact on families, with national statistics agency Istat finding that Italy’s already record-low birth rate was plunging even further due to “the climate of fear and uncertainty and the growing difficulties linked to employment and income generated by recent events.”

The Local Italian article is here.

Is No Fault Divorce Unconstitutional if You’re Religious?

An Orthodox Christian Husband, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Lebanon, is claiming that Maryland’s no-fault divorce law is unconstitutional. The Husband is deeply religious, and claims his constitutional rights will be violated if the court grants his Wife a civil divorce outside the Church.

Religious Divorce

The Cedars of Maryland

In 2009, Husband and Wife were married in Tripoli, Lebanon, at an Orthodox Christian church. Husband is an Orthodox Christian, and Wife is a Catholic. The couple had met a year earlier in Beirut, where Wife, a citizen of Lebanon, worked as an opera singer.

Husband, a dual citizen of Lebanon and the United States, has resided in the United States for over 30 years, but often travels to Lebanon to vacation and visit family members. Soon after their marriage, the parties moved to Montgomery County, Maryland where Husband operates a medical practice.

On August 4, 2016, Wife moved herself and her children out of the couple’s home in Montgomery County. On that same day, Wife filed for a limited divorce in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County

The Husband did not want a divorce. He regularly demonstrated combative and belligerent behavior, refused to comply with court orders imposing sanctions on him and did not consistently pay the legal fees awarded to Wife.

I will repeat it, I will say it now, and say it until I die: there will not be a divorce, [she] is married to me until I die. So, she has to kill me to get the divorce.

The court found that Husband was “not credible” and that he “used his resources to disrupt and delay the divorce trial, filing multiple appeals on dubious grounds, failing to cooperate with discovery, and hiring and then firing counsel.

The Husband asked for summary judgment, arguing that only Lebanese courts have jurisdiction over the divorce and that the court’s dissolution of the marriage would infringe on his free exercise of religion as an Orthodox Christian.

He also argued that Maryland’s no-fault divorce statute violated his constitutional right to marry; that the divorce would infringe on his children’s fundamental rights; and that the dissolution of his marriage would impair the obligations under his marriage contract, in violation of the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution.

The trial court denied the Husband’s motion and he appealed.

Florida No Fault Divorce

I’ve written about no fault divorce before. No-fault laws are the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. In Florida no fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or unreasonable behavior.

The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.

In addition, and what the Husband overlooked in the Maryland case, is the big requirement for divorce: to obtain a dissolution of marriage, one of the parties to the marriage must reside 6 months in the state before the filing of the petition.

Believe it or not, the residency requirement can be a major impediment to divorcing for many people. Almost all states require you to be a resident before you can file for divorce. However, the amount of time you have to reside there can vary from state to state.

Divorce and the Constitution

The Husband argued that the family court lacked jurisdiction over the divorce because the parties were married in an Orthodox Christian ceremony in Lebanon and only Lebanese courts have jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage.

He contended that a Maryland court has no power to dissolve a marriage, celebrated in Lebanon, between two persons who are now residents of Maryland. The Maryland appellate court wasted no time in dismiss his argument as without merit, finding that, like Florida:

[A]n essential element of the judicial power to grant a divorce, or jurisdiction,’” is that one spouse be domiciled within the state at the time the complaint was filed.

The big question for the court then, as to jurisdiction, is not whether they were married in Lebanon but whether the Husband or Wife were a Maryland resident.

The Husband also argued granting a “no-fault” divorce was in violation of the United States Constitution. He claimed his marriage contract does not permit no-fault divorces and that the court impermissibly expanded the terms of the parties’ marriage contract by granting the divorce on the grounds of twelve-month separation,

The court found that, although marriage is a civil contract for some purposes “marriage is not a contract within the meaning of the Constitution’s prohibition and courts have regularly held that marriage is not a contract that is constitutionally protected from interference and can be modified by laws divorce laws.

The Husband also argued the divorce infringed on his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Because the Orthodox faith does not permit divorces absent fault, a no-fault divorce would unconstitutionally force him to commit a mortal sin according to his religion.

The Supreme Court has long held that legislatures may enact general laws that regulate marriage, even if the application of the law interferes with some religious practices.

Because a trial court granting a divorce merely dissolves a civil contract between the spouses, courts universally hold that no-fault divorce statutes do not infringe on the right to the free exercise of religion, even if a spouse’s religious beliefs prohibit no-fault divorces.

The opinion is here.

Coffee Grounds for Divorce

Coffee used to be grounds for divorce in Turkey after the end of the rule of Sultan Murad IV, who had banned coffee and threw coffee drinkers into the Bosporus. Although Florida is a no-fault state, many people wonder if you still need grounds for divorce.

Coffee Grounds for Divorce

Coffee Talk

Coffee is widely regarded as the second most legally traded commodity after oil in the world today, even though coffee is not technically a commodity since it is fresh produce and its value is directly affected by the length of time it is held.

Coffee, owes its origins as a social beverage to Sufis from Yemen in the 15th century, and then it quickly spread from there throughout the Ottoman Empire. Holding a place of uncertain legality under Islam since its inception, coffee has been alternately banned and blessed depending on the tastes of the ruling government.

During the Ottoman Empire, not even the threat of penalty of death could stop the coffee drinkers of Istanbul. Sultan Murad IV launched his own attack against coffee drinkers as well as tobacco smokers. He brought back the edict about throwing coffee drinkers into the Bosporus and even took it a step further; if he found any soldiers smoking or drinking coffee on the eve of battle, he would execute them or have their limbs.

Coffee was instantly reinstated, along with tobacco use, as soon as this man met his demise. Turkish coffee has been a mainstay of Istanbul ever since to the point where, up until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, being unable to provide coffee for the household was considered sufficient grounds for a woman to divorce her husband.

Florida No Fault Divorce

The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce.

I’ve written about divorce and infidelity issues before. The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your husband’s allegedly failure to bring home Starbucks, or preferably, Lavazza. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw hot coffee at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or abuse.

No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. No fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Another Cup of Joe

A cup of coffee can be more than a beverage–it’s a lifeline. Many people claim that they can’t wake up without their morning cup of coffee, others say that they can’t stop drinking it because caffeine is what keeps them creative.

It is not really known where the history of the coffee begins but there is the world-famous legend about Kaldi, a herdsman from Ethiopia who was the first to discover the effects of the coffee beans. According to the legend, around the year 850 AD Kaldi noticed that whenever his sheep ate the red berries that grew on a particular bush, they became excited and more energetic, to the point that they didn’t sleep at night.

Soon word of the energizing berries spread and caught the interest of the Galla tribe in Ethiopia. They invented a kind of a power bar that was prepared with clarified butter and the berry. It was the food of the warriors and it apparently made them invincible. Energizing bars based on coffee berries are still a common snack in Sidamo and Kaffa.

By the late 15th century coffee had become a common beverage in the Near East, but the Ottoman Turks had mastered the art of it. They prepared the coffee with cinnamon, anise, cardamon, and cloves. And this spicy version is still available in some places in Turkey. It is no wonder that they drink coffee after coffee when they prepare each cup with so much love and attention.

Information about coffee in the Ottoman Empire can be found here.

 

International Child Custody and a Washington Woman in Saudi Arabia

In an interesting case involving international child custody and a Washington woman in Saudi Arabia, the woman who previously lost custody of her daughter in Saudi Arabia for being “too western”, is back! She traveled home for Christmas and is trying to stay in Washington state with the child.

International Child Custody

Shifting Sands

I’ve written about the case of Bethany Vierra Alhaidari before. Bethany, a 32-year-old student and yoga teacher, moved to Saudi Arabia to teach at a university in 2011. She divorced her Saudi husband, and sought custody of their four-year-old daughter. But the Saudi court concluded that she would not be a good parent.

“The mother is new to Islam, is a foreigner in this country, and continues to definitively embrace the customs and traditions of her upbringing. We must avoid exposing (the child) to these customs and traditions, especially at this early age.”

She started sleeping with her ex-husband, Ghassan al-Haidari, in a bid to get him to allow her and their daughter to spend Christmas with her family, in Washington state. It worked, but she did not return from the Christmas vacation.

Bethany is now asking a family court in Washington to give her custody of her five-year-old daughter Zaina. She said the custody agreement with her Saudi ex-husband was signed under duress and that she was not given a fair hearing by Saudi courts.

In recent years Saudi Arabia has attempted to shake off its image as one of the most repressive countries in the world for women.

In 2018, the government lifted a long-standing ban on women driving and made changes to the male guardianship system last year, allowing women to apply for passports and travel independently without permission from a man.

However, women continue to face numerous restrictions on their lives, and several women’s rights activists who campaigned for the changes have been detained and put on trial. Some of them are alleged to have been tortured in prison.

Florida and the UCCJEA

I’ve spoken about international child custody cases under the Hague Convention and the UCCJEA before. The UCCJEA and the Hague Convention are similar. The Hague Convention seeks to deter abducting parents by depriving the abducting parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.

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.”

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.

However, many countries, like Saudi Arabia, are not signatories or treaty partners with us in the Hague Convention. Fortunately, when a country is not a signatory country, the UCCJEA may provide relief.

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. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

That jurisdiction is based on where the child is, and the significant connections the child has with the forum state, let’s say Washington. The ultimate determining factor in a Washington case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

Alternatively, Washington could possibly hear the case if Washington was the Home State of the child within 6-months before filing or the children are in Washington and the court has emergency jurisdiction. In Bethany’s case, she is using a rarely used section of the UCCJEA.

A Washington Yogi in King Salman’s Court

Bethany appealed the Saudi ruling last August. But she said that it was ignored and that a Saudi judge forced her to reach a custody agreement. She went back to living with her ex-husband and at Christmas he allowed her to take Zaina to see her grandparents in Washington. They did not return.

She next filed a case with a court in Washington in January that cited a rarely-used clause in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

Even though Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, the UCCJEA requires State courts to recognize and enforce custody determinations made by foreign courts as if they were State courts.

However, a court need not enforce a foreign court order or defer to a foreign court’s jurisdiction if the child-custody law of the foreign country violates fundamental principles of human rights.

The UCCJEA language comes from article 20 of the Hague Convention. The “human rights, or fundamental freedoms defense, is invoked on the rare occasion that return of a child would utterly shock the conscience of the court or offend all notions of due process.

Washington has some experience with this clause. In 2015, a court in Washington ruled that the state should not enforce custody decrees from Egypt because there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Egyptian child custody laws violated fundamental principles of human rights.

Bethany’s husband has asked a Washington family court to enforce the custody agreement registered in Saudi Arabia, saying that his ex-wife was seeking more favorable terms.

Parents don’t get to just move the child to a foreign state and then start a custody case if they don’t like the parenting plan they had in the child’s home state.

The Wall Street Journal article is here.

A Royal International Child Custody Case

Child custody cases impact everyone, including world leaders as one recent British case proves. But the stakes in an international child custody matter can change when a parent who holds the power of a state government behind him, gets tough.

Royal Child Custody

A Royal Scam?

When you are concerned in your child custody case about the unlimited resources of the other side, knowing the children’s father is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates does not help.

Luckily, the children’s mother is Her Royal Highness Princess Haya bint Al Hussein. She is a daughter of His Majesty the late King Hussein of Jordan and the half-sister of the present ruler of Jordan, King Abdullah II.

The mother is the second official wife of the father, who, in addition, has a number of “unofficial” wives. These two children are the two youngest of the father’s 25 children.

In April 2019 the mother travelled to England with Jalila and Zayed. Although it was normal for the children and the mother to visit England, she made it clear soon after arrival that she and the children would not be returning to Dubai.

The Princess claims she fled the Gulf emirate with her children, saying she had become terrified of her husband’s threats and intimidation. The threats continued after the princess moved to London adding that the Sheikh had used the apparatus of the state “to threaten, intimidate, mistreat and oppress with a total disregard for the rule of law.”

In May 2019 the father commenced proceedings to order the children to be returned to the Emirate of Dubai. The mother initially contested the court’s jurisdiction by asserting that she enjoyed diplomatic immunity, it being the case that shortly after her arrival in England the government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan appointed the mother to the post of First Secretary at the Jordanian Embassy in London

The father, as the ruler of the State of Dubai and as the Head of the Government of the UAE, claims and acknowledges that his position attracts certain immunities, and cannot be required to attend this court to give oral evidence.

In October 2019 the father substantially revised his position by no longer pursuing his application for the children to be returned to Dubai. He agreed that the children would now continue to live with their mother and be based with her in England.

Within the same time period, the father published a poem entitled “Luck strikes once”:

“My spirit is cured of you, girl. When your face appears, no pleasure I feel. Don’t say troublemakers are the ones to blame. It’s your fault, though you’re fairer than the moon…They say luck strikes once in a lifetime and if you lose luck you have no excuse”.

The mother took the poem as a direct reference to herself.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody and domestic violence before. Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

The best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

In Florida, the term “domestic violence” has a very specific meaning, and it is more inclusive than most people realize. It means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

When discussing family or household members, Florida law defines these to mean spouses, former spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently residing together as if a family or who have resided together in the past as if a family, and persons who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether they have been married.

In Florida, individuals who have experienced domestic violence have civil and criminal remedies to protect themselves from further abuse. Protection orders may include the victim’s children, other family members, roommates, or current romantic partner. This means the same no-contact and stay-away rules apply to the other listed individuals, even if the direct harm was to the victim.

This could include a parent leaving a series of anonymous notes in the other parent’s bedroom making threats such as “We will take your son – your daughter is ours – your life is over” or warning her to be careful; and leaving a gun on the bed with the muzzle pointing towards the door and the safety catch off.

Can’t Buy a Thrill

After listening to witnesses and the King’s poetry, a judge at the High Court in London found that the Father “acted in a manner from the end of 2018 which has been aimed at intimidating and frightening” his ex-wife Princess Haya, 45.

Judge Andrew McFarlane also said the Sheikh “ordered and orchestrated” the abductions and forced return to Dubai of two of his adult daughters from another marriage: Sheikha Shamsa in August 2000, and Sheikha Latifa in 2002 and again in 2018.

The judge made rulings after a battle between the estranged spouses over the welfare of their two children, but the Sheikh fought to prevent them from being made public. The U.K Supreme Court quashed that attempt.

The judge found that Haya’s allegations about the threats and abductions met the civil standard of proof on the balance of probabilities. Princess Haya also alleged that Sheikh Mohammed had made arrangements for Jalila — then aged 11 — to be married to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman.

In 2002 the return was from the border of Dubai with Oman, and in 2018 it was by an armed commando assault at sea near the coast of India.” The judge said Shamsa, now 38, was abducted from the streets of Cambridge and “has been deprived f her liberty for much if not all of the past two decades.”

Sheikh Mohammed is also the founder of the successful Godolphin horse racing stable and last year received a trophy from Queen Elizabeth II after one of his horses won a race at Royal Ascot.

In a statement released after the rulings were published, the Sheikh said that “as a head of government, I was not able to participate in the court’s fact-finding process. This has resulted in the release of a ‘fact-finding’ judgment which inevitably only tells one side of the story.”

“I ask that the media respect the privacy of our children and to not intrude into their lives in the U.K.”

The Time article is here.

 

Home in Milan: International Child Custody and the Hague

Last week, the Supreme Court decided a big international child custody case. The decision involved a baby brought here from Milan by her American Mother after her marriage to her Italian husband ended. At issue, where the baby’s ‘habitual residence’ is under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction – Italy or here.

Hague Milan Child Custody

An Italian Drama

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty that requires a child wrongfully removed from his or her country of “habitual residence” be returned to that country.

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 requires that the countries signing the treaty “use the most expeditious proceedings available” to return the child to his or her habitual residence.

The mother, Michelle Monasky, a U.S. citizen, brought her infant daughter to Ohio from Milan, Italy after her Italian husband, Domenico Taglieri, allegedly became physically abusive. Taglieri asked a U.S. court to order the daughter’s returned under the Hague Convention.

The father argued that Italy was the daughter’s “habitual residence.” The district court agreed, finding that the parents had a “shared intention” to raise their daughter in Italy. An appellate panel affirmed, but in a divided opinion.

The Mother asked the Supreme Court to decide the matter, and it did.

International Child Custody and the Hague

I have written and spoken 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.

Not abducted children

Under the Tuscan Sun

The Supreme Court affirmed the two lower courts and ordered the child returned to Italy, albeit five years later. The Court rejected the Mother’s argument that you need an “actual agreement” to determine habitual residence, and held that a child’s habitual residence depends on a totality-of-the-circumstances.

The Court noted that the Hague Convention does not define “habitual residence,” but relied on the Convention’s text, its negotiation and drafting history, and decisions from the courts.

The Hague Convention’s text alone does not definitively tell us what makes a child’s residence sufficiently enduring to be deemed “habitual.” It surely does not say that habitual residence depends on an actual agreement between a child’s parents.

No single fact, however, is dispositive across all cases. Common sense suggests that some cases will be straightforward: Where a child has lived in one place with her family indefinitely, that place is likely to be her habitual residence.

Relying on foreign law, the U.S. Supreme Court found that there was a “clear trend” among our treaty partners to treat the determination of habitual residence as a fact-driven inquiry into the particular circumstances of the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court also resolved a circuit split, and held that a trial court’s habitual-residence determination is primarily a question of fact, entitled to clear-error appellate review. The Court declined to remand for further fact finding, noting that the parties had not identified any additional facts that the district court did not already have an opportunity to consider during the four-day bench trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision is available here.