Tag: international child abduction

International Academy of Family Lawyers

I am honored to announce my admission as a Fellow in the International Academy of Family Lawyers. The International Academy of Family Lawyers is a worldwide association of practicing lawyers who are recognized by their peers as the most experienced and expert family law specialists in their respective countries.

IAFL

International family law has become predominant in our work as our firm increasingly focuses on complex divorce and jurisdictional issues, interstate and international family law, child relocation, and Hague international child abduction cases.

The primary objective of the IAFL is to improve international family law practice throughout the world. It pursues that objective in a number of ways: creating a network of expertise in international family law around the world providing its fellows with information about both international and national developments in the law; offering advice and assistance to the wider public; promoting law reform and, where possible, harmonization of law.

Fellowship into the IAFL is by invitation only. The process is a rigorous one, designed to ensure that the high level of expertise within IAFL is maintained. Membership has grown steadily, and the number of countries now represented is 60 and IAFL has over 860 Fellows.

More information about the IAFL is available from their website 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.

 

The Great Chinese Divorce Fraud

Divorce rates are rising in China for many reasons, but one recently uncovered reason is found in a family which divorced 23-times in one month! The new Chinese divorce fraud is the hot ploy to avoid Chinese property laws and make money.

Chinese Divorce Fraud

23rd Time is a Charm

Unlike older generations who may have settled for an unhappy marriage, divorce is no longer socially taboo in China. That may have led to one family in the city of Lishui to take the new divorce fraud to extreme lengths, churning through 23 divorces and weddings in a month.

Divorce is becoming simpler in China. Couples can either register a divorce with the civil affairs authority, indicating they have agreed to go their separate ways, or they can sue for divorce through the courts, which can rule on custody of children and how to dispose of any assets.

In the first six months of this year, 1.85 million couples registered for divorce with the civil affairs authority alone, an increase of more than 10 per cent compared with the same period last year. Three decades ago, in 1986, 460,000 couples registered their divorces with the civil affairs authority. By 2016, that annual number had risen to 4.15 million.

However, the Lishui family was not divorcing for typical reasons. The Chinese government has limited each household to a maximum of two apartments. Other notable policies allow potential home buyers who don’t already own property to make much lower down payments as well as enjoy lower tax and mortgage rates.

The new divorce fraud was aimed at getting more money from the government and developers when the Lishui family house was demolished for a new development. Under the system, each member of the household would be entitled to 40 square meters of space in the new development.

In China though, the preponderance of fake divorces in any given city may indicate the failure of real estate policy at the local level.

Florida 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 as in England.

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.

The Great Fraud of China

It all started with Mr. Pan, who lived in the house, remarrying his ex-wife, and allowing her to qualify for the compensation plan. Two weeks later, he divorced her and married his sister-in-law, adding her to the plan. On it went, with each new family member enlarging the amount of space to be awarded as compensation, until government authorities discovered the house suddenly was home to 13 people, and promptly arrested 11 of them.

While it’s an extreme case in property-obsessed China – where would-be home buyers have to navigate a shifting array of property curbs – it’s probably more understandable given home prices in Lishui have surged as much as 31% in the past two years.

According to the compensation policy, people living in the village slated for renovation — even those who were not property owners — would be given minimum compensation of one 40-square-meter apartment as long as their household registration, or hukou, had been filed within the village by April 10.

When interrogated by police, Pan’s father — who had been party to the sham marriages and divorces himself — said he had assumed the family’s actions were legitimate since they had not violated China’s marriage law. “In doing this, we were just trying to get more compensation.”

According to the chief marriage lawyer at Beijing Yingke Law Firm:

Just because a person is following one law doesn’t mean they’re not breaking another. The family used a legal avenue to achieve an illegal end. The marriage law doesn’t forbid marriages and divorces — but in this case, the family used marriages and divorces as a means of committing fraud. While they didn’t violate the marriage law, they acted against the criminal law.

In April of this year, home buying policies in select urban areas were further tightened. Now, regardless of whether a divorced person is buying their first or second property, banks will evaluate them based on both their property ownership status and mortgage records — meaning even if they have no property registered in their name, an apartment they’re hoping to purchase can still be considered a second home, subject to a higher down payment and mortgage rate, if they have made previous mortgage payments.

The Bloomberg article is here.

 

Western Women in Arabia and Child Custody

An American mother just lost custody of her daughter because a Saudi judge ruled she was too Western to raise the child. Her own parents now worry they will lose both grand-daughter and daughter. An interesting case about Western Women in Arabia dealing with child custody is bubbling up in Arabia.

western woman arabia custody

Thicker than Oil

Bethany, a 32-year-old student and yoga teacher, moved to Saudi Arabia to teach at a university in 2011. She recently divorced her Saudi husband, and sought custody of their four-year-old daughter. Recently, the Saudi court concluded that she would not be a good parent.

The judge ruled in his denial of the mother’s custody of her daughter:

“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.”

In statements submitted to the court, counsel for the ex-husband used her social media postings as evidence of an allegedly un-Islamic lifestyle.

In translated court documents, a summary of accusations against her includes the fact that she had gone to US festival Burning Man, which is characterized as “the world’s strangest festival” where attendees “appear in crazy clothes and stay awake all night dancing and surrounded by people wearing only shoes made of fur, or drinking drugs (sic) or cold drinks.”

According to the judge’s notes, counsel for her ex-husband also accused her of maintaining social media channels “full of nudity, intermingling of the two sexes and a lot of things and actions contrary to our religion and customs and traditions.”

In court, Bethany countered that her ex-husband was actually the unfit parent, alleging that he was verbally abusive and used drugs. “There was drug use and that became an issue,” her mother told CNN. Her ex-husband has denied the accusations, and did not respond to requests for comment from CNN.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody issues before. In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility.

Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities. Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child.

In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

While social media evidence can be useful in determining some of the factors in the statute, being “new to Islam” and “embracing the customs and traditions” of a parent’s upbringing are not factors a court in Florida would consider unless harm to the child can be shown.

Oil Well that Ends Well?

The judge ultimately granted custody of Zaina to her Saudi grandmother, who lives with Zaina’s father.

“The fact that the father is residing with his mother is likely a temporary situation. Knowing that it is in men’s nature not to stay at home and not to honor/fulfill parental role themselves.”

Bethany was given until this Sunday to appeal the judge’s custody ruling, and for now, the child remains with her. But her parents tell CNN that there is a warrant out for her arrest after she missed a child visitation from her ex-husband– a visitation her parents say she didn’t know about.

They also say that Bethany has been banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for the next 10 years, though they were not able to provide further detail on the reason.

She wants to have the rights to go and come. She used to have that right says Bethany’s father. He says a judge also warned his daughter not to talk to the media.

Shifting Sands

Saudi Arabia has taken tentative steps towards the emancipation of women in recent years.

In 2012 Saudi women were allowed to compete at the Olympic Games for the first time. In 2015, women were allowed to vote in local elections for the first time. And recently, after a sustained campaign, women were allowed to drive.

At the end of this month, women will be allowed to hold a passport without needing permission of a male “guardian.” Nevertheless, the controversial guardianship system remains largely intact.

“A woman, from birth to death, must have a male guardian. The idea is that they are not capable and that men know better.”

Women still need a male guardian’s permission before having elective surgery, for example. And critically for Bethany, by Saudi law, a woman’s testimony is worth only half that of a man’s.

“Speaking generally, the U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater responsibility than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas. US citizens abroad are subject to local laws,” the official added.

Bethany is now racing to collect all the necessary documents to appeal the custody ruling before the window closes this Sunday.

The CNN article is here.

 

Is Divorce Rotten in the State of Denmark?

Bucking the trend, Denmark is turning back the clock on divorce by making it less-easy. That may be because Denmark currently has the highest divorce rate in Europe. In our country’s attempts to make divorce less acrimonious and easier on children, have we created new problems by making it so easy? The trend in international divorces may have made something rotten in the state of Denmark.

International Divorce Laws

Dansk Divorce Laws

According to the Guardian, until recently Danes could divorce by filling out a simple online form. But under a package of legislation that came into force in April, couples determined to split must wait three months and undergo counselling before their marriage can be dissolved.

Meanwhile, a survey found that 68 of Denmark’s 98 local authorities were offering relationship therapy to couples in difficulty, on the grounds that keeping families together saves municipalities money on housing and services.

The initiatives, which in some countries might be seen as unwelcome state intrusion in citizens’ private lives, have been broadly welcomed by both the public and politicians in Denmark, with only the small Liberal Alliance party criticizing them as over-reach.

The country has long championed family rights, offering year-long parental leave and universal public daycare, but it recorded 15,000 divorces in 2018, equivalent to nearly half the marriages that year.

The government’s three-month waiting period and “cooperation after divorce” course, taken online or via an app, aims to smooth the process for divorcing couples and children by helping them improve communication and avoid pitfalls.

Parents can tailor their course individually from 17 half-hour modules offering concrete solutions to potential areas of conflict during the divorce process, including how to handle birthday parties or how to talk to an ex-partner when angry.

Florida Divorce

I have written about divorce planning and recent trends in divorce around the world before, such as the new Norse Divorce Course.

Although Florida has a lower divorce rate than Denmark, it is not only because a divorce course is required in Florida. Divorce rates have been falling in the United States, but that is not good news, as many people are having children outside of marriage, and the statistics for relationship breakups is staggering.

Like Denmark, in Florida, the legislature has found that a large number of children experience the separation or divorce of their parents. Parental conflict related to divorce is a major concern because children suffer potential short-term and long-term detrimental economic, emotional, and educational effects during this difficult period of family transition.

This harm can be particularly true when parents engage in lengthy legal conflict. So, like Denmark, Florida requires a divorce course called the “Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course” and may include several topics relating to custody, care, time-sharing, and support of children.

Back in København

In a trial with 2,500 volunteers before launching, the Denmark course has been praised by specialists and those who have completed it. “The data is clear: the program works,” he said. “In 13 out of 15 cases it had a moderate to strong positive effect on mental and physical health and led to fewer absences from work. After 12 months, couples were communicating with each other as if they had not divorced.”

Hjalmar, a marketing executive in his 40’s who preferred not to give his full name, said he took the course in its trial phase nearly four years ago and found it very useful. “Obviously it’s not going to repair a broken marriage,” he said. “But it helps you sort out some pretty important stuff when you may not be thinking very clearly.”

Relationship experts said the course was a step in the right direction but would not work for all couples. “It’s a fine tool and you can’t argue with its results,” said Trine Schaldemose, the deputy head of Mødrehjælpen, a family help association. “But it won’t help couples who are in very high conflict or violent relationships, or with a very low level of resources. They are going to need more than an online course. They will need personal, individual counselling. This won’t be a quick fix for them.”

Many consider Denmark’s new divorce rules were a big improvement. Before, the system was focused more on parents’ rights than children’s. And divorce involved a lot of different institutions, none of which were aligned. That’s changed.

Some experts are unsure about the boom in local authority-provided counselling. Five years ago only 20% offered any couples therapy at all. Any counselling was a positive development but the quality of programs varied and some couples may not be as open when counselling was provided by a local authority rather than independently.

Municipalities insist their programs work. In Ringkøbing-Skjern, which began offering free relationship therapy in 2011, the council says the divorce rate has fallen by 17% and last year 92 local couples sought counselling – the highest annual number so far.

All couples with children under 18 are entitled to five free sessions. Politicians, too, have been broadly welcoming. “Municipalities deserve praise for taking the initiative to help more families prosper and stay together”.

Divorce rates are 25% to 50% across western countries and it costs a huge amount of money and causes a lot of individual pain. Individual treatment would be too expensive. If we really want to take this seriously, we need to work together to develop something scaleable.

The Guardian article is here.

 

New International Child Custody Laws

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

Brussels

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Child Custody

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

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

There are three essential elements to every Hague Convention case:

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

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

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

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

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

EU New Rules

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

Settling cross-border child abduction cases faster

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

Ensuring the child is heard

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

Ensuring effective enforcement of decisions in other Member States

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

Improving cooperation between Member States’ authorities

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

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

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

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

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

The Europa article is here.

 

 

Child Abduction and an Old Fish

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

Child Custody

That’s Amore

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

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

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

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

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

International Child Abduction

I have written – and spoke earlier this year – on international custody and child abduction cases under The Hague Convention.

The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children “to the State of their habitual residence” to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting a child.

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

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

When the order hits your eye like a dead fish…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opinion is here.

 

International Child Custody just got Bigger in Japan

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

International Child Custody

Lost in Translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirited Away

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

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

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

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

Last Samurai

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

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

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

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

Ran

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

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

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

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

The Japan Times article is available here.

 

New Norse Divorce Course

Although Denmark has a reputation as one of the happiest countries in the world, it also has the highest divorce rate in western Europe. A new law enacted in Denmark will require citizens to take a divorce course in order to legally dissolve their marriage.

Divorce Course

Denmark is not alone. Many countries are struggling with high divorce rates. Statistics from Denmark show that in 2017, almost half of all marriages in the country ended in divorce. That statistic may change because, from today, Danish couples seeking a divorce will be required to study up on the process by taking a divorce course.

Professor Gert Martin Hald, from the University of Copenhagen, helped develop the course, told Euronews: “The course, which is available on an app, gives advice on communication with your former partner and how to help your children.

Florida Divorce

Although Florida has a lower divorce rate than Denmark, it is not only because a divorce course is required in Florida. Importantly. the beginning of the year is the highest time for divorce filings. The spike in divorce filings peaks in late March. I have written about divorce planning and especially the phenomenon of divorce filings at the beginning of the year before.

The first few months of the year are known for divorce filings, and January is nicknamed the “Divorce Month” in Florida. Researchers recently did an analysis of all American divorce filings and found that there is a spike in divorces in January.

There are many reasons for what’s happening at the beginning of the new year that causes people to divorce. The holidays are often a tricky time for couples whose relationships have been under pressure for a while.

Add in the intense time spent together, financial pressure, extended family critiques and unrealistic expectations (nothing worse than happy people’s Facebook posts) – and it can spell disaster for some relationships.

In Florida, the legislature has found that a large number of children experience the separation or divorce of their parents. Parental conflict related to divorce is a major concern because children suffer potential short-term and long-term detrimental economic, emotional, and educational effects during this difficult period of family transition.

This harm can be particularly true when parents engage in lengthy legal conflict. So, Florida requires a divorce course called the “Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course” and may include several topics relating to custody, care, time-sharing, and support of children.

Danish Divorces

Florida does not have any type of cooling off period before you can file for divorce, but Florida’s Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course sounds very similar to the Danish divorce course. In Denmark, many believe some divorces can be premature, now they will have to have a three-month reflective period.

According to proponents of the new law in Denmark, the course is really aimed at countering the well-known adverse effects of divorce, it’s not necessarily to discourage divorce, but put people in a better position to deal with it.

“What we’ve done is target areas of the divorce process which are difficult, such as how to communicate with ex-partners and also understanding your own reactions and the reactions of any child.”

The Danish group studied two and a half thousand divorces to see if this is beneficial in reducing depression and improving the physical health of divorcees and it’s been shown that over a twelve-month period, it has a positive effect.

This new divorce course, only for couples with children, is designed to help both parties reflect on what life will be like apart.

The Euronews Report is 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.