Tag: International Child Custody

No Fault Divorce Coming to England

The United Kingdom is leaving behind another ancient relic. With the April 2022 effective date of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, no fault divorce is coming to England.

No Fault England

An Outdated Druidic Ritual?

Legal professionals everywhere believe current divorce laws are out of date. In England in particular, this became the thinking after the 2018 Supreme Court case of Owens v Owens.

In Owens the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom upheld a decision that refused a contested divorce petition by a wife after the trial judge found the husband’s behavior was not unreasonable enough to justify granting a divorce.

The UK Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal expressed regret at not being able to grant the divorce petition. The public reaction to the unfairness Mrs. Owens was placed in led to the passage of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.

Passed in June 2020, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force on April 6, 2022. The Act allows either or both parties to a marriage may apply to the court for a “divorce order” which dissolves the marriage on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. These changes will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.

After April 6th, couples will not have to either separate for at least two years – increasing to five if one party does not consent – or allocate blame to legally end their marriage.

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 alleged infidelity with a congresswoman. 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 mud 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.

21st Century Divorce

Passage of the Act is causing many lawyers to expect a surge in applications from separating couples when no-fault divorce is introduced in England and Wales. It has been described as the biggest reform of divorce laws for 50 years.

The legal requirement to assign blame makes it harder for couples to reach an amicable agreement at an already difficult and often emotional time. Florida’s own experience, and in other countries which have moved to a no-fault system, is that there is a spike when the new law comes in – in Scotland, for example, when they changed the law in 2006.

Coupled with the recent increase in divorce and child custody filing related to being quarantined due to the coronavirus pandemic, the new law in England is expecting many to cause a divorce surge.

The latest divorce statistics, published on Thursday, showed that the number of divorce petitions in the last quarter of 2021 was down 26% on the same period in 2020.

There are fears that an initial surge in cases coupled with the new technology necessary to implement no-fault divorce will put added pressure on courts have never been under greater strain because of because of Covid and budget cuts.

Stowe Family Law is also anticipating a spike in the number of couples seeking divorce, although Amanda Phillips-Wylds, a managing partner at the firm, said others had been rushing to push through a divorce under the existing fault-based system.

She suggested couples were motivated by “catharsis”, but also because some “wrongly believe that being able to prove the other party was at fault for the marital breakdown would favorably impact their financial settlement and arrangements for any children … In reality, behavior very rarely impacts financial outcomes or arrangements for children.”

Lawyers were at pains to point out that the new law would not affect the financial settlement process – which is separate – nor necessarily speed up the divorce. For the first time there will be a new minimum overall timeframe of six months for the divorce.

Edwards said she supported this in principle to allow time for reflection, but added: “I do have some concerns about that because in a coercive controlling relationship there’ll be nothing to stop a joint applicant from withdrawing partway through the process, and then you start all over again.”

The government has said it would look at the financial settlement process, in which judges currently have broad discretion, and it is also being urged by bodies including Family Solutions group to look at ways of taking divorcing couples away from the courts altogether to put the welfare of children centre stage.

The Guardian article is here.

Same Sex Marriage and Divorce Fraud

Same sex marriage and divorce fraud is in the news in India. The Indian Supreme Court has just asked a woman to respond to her husband’s divorce petition in which he claims his wife defrauded him because she is not a female according to medical reports.

India Same Sex Marriage

Truth Alone Triumphs

What defines gender and sex in a marriage and does it even matter? Those questions come to mind because of an interesting case which was filed before the Supreme Court of India. A man first filed a criminal action against his wife for cheating and fraud, alleging she has “external male genital structure.” Later, he filed a civil action for divorce.

The petition, filed through advocate Praveen Swarup, said that the man and woman’s marriage was solemnized in July 2016. The petition also said that after solemnization of marriage, the wife did not consummate for a few days on the pretext that she is undergoing a menstrual cycle and thereafter she left the matrimonial house and returned after a period of 6 days.

In the following days, when the man tried to get intimate with his wife, he found that the vaginal opening was absent.

The medical report of the wife states she is biologically female, with ovaries, and identifies as a woman. It also mentions that she has “external male genitalia” such as an “imperforate hymen and penis” (a medical condition in which hymen covers the whole opening of the vagina), the petition said.

The petition further mentioned that the woman was advised to undergo surgical repair but the doctor also told the petitioner that even if an artificial vagina is created through surgery, consummation may take place but the chances of getting pregnant are close to impossible.

After this medical examination, the petitioner felt cheated and called up the father of his wife, to take his daughter back. The woman underwent surgery and then returned to her husband’s house after the woman’s father allegedly forcibly entered the man’s house threatened him to keep his daughter at his house.

Florida Same Sex Marriage

I have written about same-sex marriages in Florida before. In the federal court case of Brenner v. Scott, one the leading cases in Florida on the issue, a same-sex couple tried to have their Canadian marriage recognized in Florida.

By Florida refusing to recognize the foreign marriage certificate and designate each of the couple as spouses, the couple who were employed by the state if Florida, were not eligible for any spousal benefits in the Florida retirement benefits program.

The U.S. District Court, after finding that marriage is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, held that Florida’s same-sex marriage laws must be reviewed under strict scrutiny, and are unconstitutional.

The injunction ordered the Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services and the Florida Surgeon General to cease enforcing Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.

In Obergefell v. Hodges the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage is legal everywhere in the U.S., and Florida couples no longer need to worry about laws changing and can move to any U.S. state without worrying that their marriages will not be recognized.

Cry Me A Narmada River

The Indian Supreme Court initially denied the petition. However, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh have now asked the woman to file a reply to her husband’s divorce petition challenging a Madhya Pradesh High Court order of last summer.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court is located in Jabalpur. Along with being located on the Narmada River,  Jabalpur is primarily known for its marble rocks. It is also the country’s 38th-largest urban agglomeration according to a recent census.

The medical history of the woman shows “penis + imperforate hymen”, so she is not a female, the Supreme Court said issuing notice to her to respond within four weeks.

The High Court had previously dismissed the man’s petition saying “only on the basis of oral evidence and without medical evidence”, a cheating charge could not be established.

The NDTV article is here.

How the Covid Pandemic Impacting Divorce and Custody

Anyone interested in how the Covid pandemic is impacting relationships, divorce, and custody cases, read Holly Ellyatt’s feature article “Arguing with your partner over Covid? You’re not alone, with the pandemic straining many relationships” in CNBC.

Covid Custody

I am quoted in the story, which examines how disagreements over Covid restrictions, child vaccination and even the very existence of the virus have seen some relationships pushed to breaking point, according to family law experts and psychologists:

Ron Kauffman, a Board-certified marital and family attorney based in Miami, told CNBC he has also seen “a sharp increase in disputes between parents arguing during the pandemic.”

The disputes often fall into three categories, Kauffman said: “Appropriate quarantine, following mask mandates, and vaccinations.” And they manifest in arguments about timesharing or visitation; i.e. the amount of time each parent spends with their child or children, he added. “When parents are separating or already separated, Covid has become a nuclear bomb to frustrate someone’s timesharing.”

Child Custody and Vaccines

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.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

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.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations.

Ellyatt also discusses the well-known fact that the divorce rate has increased during the pandemic, how children can become a particular source of conflict and anguish in a break-up and the argument for vaccinating children being more complex than for adults, and the issue of Covid vaccines for children becoming another area of conflict for some parents.

The CNBC article is here.

Messy Divorce in Mesopotamia

A messy divorce is underway in Mesopotamia. Florida is a no-fault divorce state. But, in states and countries where fault must be proven to obtain a divorce, Iraq is making headlines after a newlywed husband filed for divorce because of the song his wife played at their wedding.

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Some are calling it the most urgent divorce in the history of Ur. News reports show that a husband is seeking to divorce his wife because at their wedding party the bride played one of the most provocative and popular songs to flow out of the Euphrates river valley.

According to the Gulf News, the Wife chose the song “Mesaytara.” The title translates to ‘I am dominant’ or ‘I will control you.’  The lyrics are even more provocative and include:

“I am dominant; you will be ruled under my strict instructions; I will drive you crazy if you looked at other girls on the street; Yes, I’m dominant; You’re my piece of sugar; As long as you’re with me, you’ll walk under my command.”

The song is performed by Lamis Kan a popular singer from Egypt. The song appears to be the main reason behind the couple’s divorce at the wedding.

The official ‘Mesaytara’ music video is available here.

The bride was reportedly dancing to the rhythm of the song, which the groom and his family considered a provocation. Therefore, the groom entered into an argument with the bride and her family, following which he ended up divorcing her. The incident took place in Baghdad, but is rattling all of ancient Babylon.

Florida No Fault Divorce

I have written about the causes of divorce before. 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.

So, if your spouse has committed fraud, adultery, or worse, wants the band to play the “Baby Shark Dance” at the wedding party, you don’t need to allege that as grounds for divorce.

The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your spouse’s political activism. 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 mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like collaboration or weakening the revolutionary spirit.

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.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. 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.

You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’

Remarkably, this latest divorce out of Iraq is not even the first time that Lamis Kan’s “Mesaytara” led to the divorce of newlyweds in the Middle East. Last year, a Jordanian man broke up with his finance during their wedding celebrations after she played the song.

According to a video circulated on social media last year, the young man was heard screaming at his wife, who posted a picture of him kissing her hand, along with the song.

The song exposed the husband to an embarrassing situation in front of his friends and family, who stated that he was a “happy rabbit” instead of an “unhappy lion”.

In yet another incident, Lebanon witnessed a similar incident years ago due to the song “I love you Donkey”. According to local media reports, A groom divorced his wife at the wedding after she danced to the song.

The groom said that the bride told him to prepare a surprise for him in the next song in a bid to show that she “loves a donkey”. The groom said that he felt great anger after hearing the song, which prompted him to divorce his bride immediately without hesitation.

The Gulf News article is here.

Child Support and the 8,000 Year Travel Ban

Family laws are ancient and modern. Over the years, wise judges have learned to maintain the status quo by preventing parents from leaving the country during a case. But one Australian father, who allegedly owes millions in child support, just received an 8,000-year travel ban. This travel ban prevents him from leaving the holy land until the year 9999 in his ongoing international divorce.

Israel Travel Ban 2

Thou Shall Not Leave the Jurisdiction

Noam Huppert, a 44-year-old citizen of Australia was married to an Israeli woman and they have two young children together. The family court in Israel issued a “stay-of-exit” order against Noam, sometimes referred to in Israel as a “Tsav.” He apparently cannot lift the travel ban order – and leave the country – until he pays his outstanding child support payments.

“The total in the year 2013 was roughly 7.5 million shekels (roughly $3.34 million)”

Israel’s laws regarding child support may be ancient, but why 8,000 years? It has been reported that placing the travel ban’s expiration date of 9999  in the court order was probably because it was the highest possible date that fit in the field and he owed a lot of child support.

The US State Department regularly includes a warning about travel. The civil and religious courts in Israel actively exercise their authority to bar certain individuals, including non-residents, from leaving the country until they pay their debts or other legal claims against them are resolved.

The US State Department also warns travelers that the US Embassy is unable to cancel the debt of a US citizen or guarantee their departure from Israel when they face a travel ban from leaving the country until debts are resolved.

Mr. Huppert, who works as an analytical chemist for a pharmaceutical company, told the Australian news service NewsAU that Israeli courts had ruled he owed 5,000 shekels per month for each child until they turned 18.

Florida International Divorce

I’ve written about international divorce issues before. International divorce frequently involves understanding various issues in foreign laws, and especially, jurisdiction. Jurisdiction involves questions about who sues whom, where do you sue, how do you sue for international divorce, and what country’s laws apply.

Which country’s laws apply can be tricky, and even well represented clients can end up owing big. Recently a British court ordered the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, to pay his ex-wife Princess Haya bint al-Hussein more than $728 million in one of the largest divorce settlements ever handed down by a British court.

Rules against wrongfully abducting or retaining children in a foreign country, or leaving the jurisdiction, is a problem in every divorce – especially in international cases. One of the ways courts in Florida prevent child abductions and secure the payment of child support is travel bans.

So, in any proceeding in which there is a parenting plan involved, if there is a risk that a parent may remove a child from the state or country, or simply conceal the whereabouts of a child, courts have a lot of options at their disposal.

The powers of Florida courts to prevent the wrongful removal of a child can be as simple as ordering parents not to remove the child without the notarized written permission of both parents and a court order, limiting travel to Hague Convention countries.

In addition, Florida courts can require parents to surrender the child’s passport, place the child’s name in the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program of the United States Department of State and/or post a bond or other security as a financial deterrent to abduction.

But parents can also lose their travel privileges in the United States for owing unpaid child support. For instance, the U.S. Department of State issues passports to U.S. citizens for foreign travel. If a parent owes more than $2,500 in past-due support, the Department of State automatically denies any application for a U.S. passport until the past-due child support is paid. This includes requests to renew, replace or add pages to an existing passport.

Woe to the shepherd who abandons the flock

In Israel, the family court in a divorce case can issue a ban on the children or a parent leaving the country when one of the parents requests it. The reason a ban can be issued by a court in Israel is because of the fear that one of the parents will take the children abroad and never return. This is especially true in a country such as Israel, with many immigrants.

Israeli courts can also issue the travel ban when a husband refuses to give his wife the “Get”, or as in the case of the Australian father, when a father refuses to pay, or is late on, the monthly children’s support.
It is possible to leave by legal means if a travel ban is in place. Similar to other jurisdictions, a father would have to provide guaranties and guarantors in order to leave the country.

Israel’s government allows you to check if you have a travel ban on their website to avoid a court ordered travel ban from interfering with your travel.

The Australia News Corp article is here.

Custody Rights and the Unvaccinated Parent

Whether an unvaccinated parent can lose their child custody rights is a painful topic these days given the talk of vaccine mandates around the world. The United States is not alone in countries where people have pointed positions on vaccine mandates. A court in Canada was recently left to make a painful decision about custody rights and an unvaccinated parent.

Custody Vaccination

A Shot of the Constitution

In the United States, making the COVID vaccine mandatory has become more of a constitutional issue than a public health one. The issue has become especially sharp in child custody cases. Parents have a fundamental right to raise their children, but there can be exceptions. Courts have had a difficult time threading the needle when parents disagree about vaccinations.

These issues are not just in the United States either. The Ontario Court of Justice recently had to decide whether a father’s decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID should deprive him of his parenting time.

In L.S. v. M.A.F., the mother sought an order that the father’s parenting time be supervised. Why? The mother claimed that due to the father’s significant anger management issues, she feared for the child’s safety if left alone with him.

The mother also said she trusted the paternal grandmother and the father’s sister to supervise the father’s parenting time. The father opposed and sought liberal and unsupervised parenting time with his child.

During cross examination, the father revealed that he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. He also had no intention to get vaccinated, claiming that it was contrary to his Rastafarian beliefs, for which the court notes he did not provide evidence.

He was nevertheless willing to take safety precautions during his parenting times, for example, wearing a mask. He also attested that the paternal grandmother is fully vaccinated and that he is comfortable with taking the child to her home.

Citing Justice Robert Spence in his decision in A.G. v. M.A., 2021 ONCJ 531, the court said that there were competing interests at stake: on the one hand, parenting time increased the child’s risk of infection for COVID-19, and on the other, the child is entitled to have a meaningful relationship with her father.

Florida Vaccination

I’ve written about the injection of vaccines into Florida child custody cases 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.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

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.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations. The Chicago case, however, involves a parent’s refusal to vaccinate herself.

The decision to vaccinate raises interesting family law issues. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are in Florida and other states.

Getting to the Point

The court agreed with the mother that it is in the best interest of the child to have a meaningful relationship with her father.

But, after evaluating the evidence, the court concluded that it was necessary for the father’s parental time to be supervised by the paternal grandmother or his sister, both of whom are vaccinated and willing to supervise the father’s parenting time.

The father had very little parenting experience and knowledge of the child’s needs, which can be compensated by the experience of the paternal grandmother or his sister, said the court. The court also considered the father’s little control over his temper and becomes verbally abusive and threatening when angered, and the presence of a third party can ensure that the child is removed from any situation should the father lose control of his temper.

To reduce the risk of the child contracting COVID-19, the court-imposed restrictions upon the father’s parenting time, including that it shall be exercised either outdoors or in the paternal grandmother’s home and that both father and child shall always wear masks.

The court also ruled that should the father become fully vaccinated, the restrictions shall no longer apply, but if these restrictions are violated, the mother may suspend his in-person parenting time.

Canada’s Law Times article is here.

 

Abu Dhabi’s Modernized Divorce Laws

News from the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, is that the country has modernized its divorce laws. The county has issued new rules governing divorce, inheritance, and child custody for non-Muslims living in the emirate.

Abu Dhabi Divorce

Bridging the Divorce Gulf

Abu Dhabi is one of seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE and the new law affects only this sheikhdom. While the oil-rich emirate is the capital of the nation, Abu Dhabi’s population is dwarfed by that of neighboring Dubai.

The report on Sunday said Abu Dhabi would create a new court to handle these cases, which will be held in Arabic and English to be better understood by the emirate’s vast foreign worker population.

This latest development comes after news that more than half of all Emirati couples in Abu Dhabi face divorce within the first four years of marriage, according to research conducted by the Department of Community Development.

The emirate previously launched an initiative to raise awareness about the importance of seeking professional help at the first signs of conflict, with the aims of reducing divorce rates in the early stages of marriage.

Change in child custody will allow parents to share joint custody of their children, WAM reported. The law – which consists of 20 articles – also introduces the idea of civil marriage, allows wills to be drawn up granting inheritance to whomever a person chooses, and deals with paternity issues.

It is set to provide “a flexible and advanced judicial mechanism for the determination of personal status disputes for non-Muslims”, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said, according to The National newspaper.

Florida Religion and Divorce

I’ve written about the intersection of religion and divorce before – especially as it relates to vaccinations. Religion, religious beliefs, and religious practices are not statutory factors Florida courts consider when determining parental responsibility.

Nor is religion an area in which a parent may be granted ultimate responsibility over a child. Instead, the weight religion plays in custody disputes grew over time in various cases.

One of the earliest Florida cases in which religion was a factor in deciding parental responsibility restricted one parent from exposing the children to that parent’s religion.

The Mother was a member of The Way International, and the Father introduced evidence that The Way made the mother an unfit parent. He alleged The Way psychologically brainwashed her, that she had become obsessed, and was neglecting the children. The trial judge awarded custody to the mother provided that she severs all connections, meetings, tapes, visits, communications, or financial support with The Way, and not subject the children to any of its dogmas.

The Mother appealed the restrictions as a violation of her free exercise of religion. The appellate court agreed, and held the restrictions were unconstitutionally overbroad and expressly restricted the mother’s free exercise of her religious beliefs and practices.

Following that, and other decisions, Florida courts will not stop a parent from practicing their religion or from influencing the religious training of their child inconsistent with that of the other parent.

When the matter involves the religious training and beliefs of the child, the court generally does not make a decision in favor of a specific religion over the objection of the other parent. The court should also avoid interference with the right of a parent to practice their own religion and avoid imposing an obligation to enforce the religious beliefs of the other parent.

Modernizing an Insular Peninsula

The new law comes after authorities last year said they would overhaul the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalizing so-called “honour killings” – a widely criticized tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman he claims has dishonored her family.

At the time, the government said the legal reforms were part of efforts to improve legislation and the investment climate in the country, as well as to consolidate “tolerance principles”.

Abu Dhabi also ended its alcohol license system in September 2020. Previously, individuals needed a liquor license to buy, transport or have alcohol in their homes. The rule would apparently allow Muslims who have been barred from obtaining licenses to drink alcoholic beverages freely.

The UAE as a whole in September this year announced yet another plan to stimulate its economy and liberalize stringent residency rules for foreigners. In January, the UAE announced it was opening a path to citizenship for select foreign nationals, who make up nearly 80 percent of the population.

The UAE last year introduced a number of legal changes at the federal level, including decriminalizing premarital sexual relations and alcohol consumption. These reforms, alongside measures such as introducing longer-term visas, have been seen as a way for the Gulf state to make itself more attractive for foreign investment, tourism and long-term residency.

The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a skyscraper-studded destination for Western tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses. The changes also reflect the efforts of the emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society at home.

The Reuters article is here.

 

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.

One Year Ago: Live Hague Trial

One year ago was the last time I stepped into an actual courtroom for a live trial dealing with child custody and the Hague Convention. It was also a year ago that the U.S. Supreme Court decided Monasky v. Taglieri. A lot has happened to the world in one long year.

Texas holdem

Mexican Poker

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

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

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

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

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

Habitual Residence and the Hague Convention

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

The Florida Bar Journal recently published an article I wrote during the quarantine about the recent U.S. Supreme Court case. In Monasky v. Taglieri, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the determination of a child’s “habitual residence” for purposes of the Hague Convention depends on a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis and that a district court’s habitual-residence determination should be reviewed for clear error.

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

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

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

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

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

The Supreme Court also noted that Monasky’s ‘actual agreement’ requirement would leave many children without a habitual residence, and outside the Convention’s domain and the Hague Convention always allows a court concerned about domestic violence to not order a child’s return if “there is a grave risk that return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”

Texas Hold ‘Em?

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

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

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

But we faced another, potentially bigger problem. How do you enforce a federal court order to return a child to Mexico when the entire world, including borders and flights home were slamming shut?

The alternative to us moving immediately to secure the child’s return to Mexico would be to ‘hold em’ in Texas. Acting quickly, the father and daughter made it safely home to the habitual residence of Mexico.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision 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.