Tag: International Child Custody

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.

 

Social Media and International Child Custody

An American woman living in Saudi Arabia has been punished in her international child custody divorce. During the divorce trial, her Saudi ex-husband was able to introduce exhibits from her social media account into evidence. The social media evidence proved fatal to her custody case.

ocial media international child custody

Desert Justice

Though she succeeded with the divorce, her custody battle appeared to reach a dead end after a Saudi judge awarded custody of their daughter Zeina to the husband’s mother, who lives with him, despite video evidence Ms. Vierra submitted to the court that she said showed her ex-husband doing drugs and verbally abusing her in front of their daughter.

“It’s like 10,000 times worse here because so much is at risk for women when they go to court. I genuinely thought that there would still be justice served here, and I kind of put everything on that.”

Saudi courts prioritize ensuring that children are raised in accordance with Islam. According to court documents, the judge accepted Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband’s arguments that she was unfit to raise Zeina because she was a Westerner, and ran a yoga studio.

Social Media and International Child Custody

Divorce trials usually require the introduction of sensitive and personal evidence. For example, it is common to hire private investigators to film spouses, or use forensic accountants to hunt for strange credit card charges.

Sometimes though, the evidence falls in your lap. Facebook and other social media sites are often filled with very personal information which is increasingly being used in divorce trials. You may have heard of some examples:

  • A Husband posts his status as single and childless on Facebook while seeking primary custody of his children.
  • A mother is accused of never attending her kids’ school events because of her online gaming addiction. Evidence subpoenaed from World of Warcraft tracks her on-line with her boyfriend at the time when she was supposed to be with the children.
  • A husband denies he has any anger management issues, but posts on Facebook; “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”
  • A mom denies in court that she ever smokes marijuana, but then uploads photos of herself smoking pot on Facebook.

Is the evidence admissible? And if so, how do you prove the evidence is real and not maliciously put there? The Florida Bar Commentator published an article I wrote about using Facebook evidence at trial.

The article discusses the evidentiary potential of social media sites, and the peculiar challenges of authenticating materials from the internet. Social media websites like Facebook have had an astronomical growth worldwide, and are showing up in divorce trials.

The article suggests some of the benefits and obstacles in gathering and using Facebook and other social media evidence at trial. The article also reviews the then leading national cases on social media websites, and outlines when it is necessary to use computer forensic firms and other sources to ensure that the evidence is properly admitted.

Your Desert Kingdom Divorce

The status of women in Saudi Arabia is changing. Many women now enjoy new reforms in the law which allow women to drive, and even to a certain degree, vote. The election allowing it was for municipal councils with few powers, but the reform is a milestone for many women.

But the dramatic changes have not touched the most fundamental restriction on Saudi women, a guardianship system that gives men control over many critical parts of their wives.

The guardianship system’s rules extend to women who marry Saudis, like Ms. Vierra. Even after she divorced her husband last year, Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband remains her guardian. Wielding his guardianship powers, he prevented her from going home to see her family at Christmas and let her legal residency expire, which left her stuck, unable to access her bank account or leave Saudi Arabia.

During the divorce trial, he told the court that Ms. Vierra, did not speak Arabic well, and that she was an atheist. He also submitted photos of her in a bikini, in yoga pants . . . with her hair uncovered! This social media evidence of Ms. Vierra wearing forbidden yoga pants, in a country that requires women to wear loose abayas in public, was devastating at the divorce trial.

The court accepted his testimony at face value, she said, while hers was legally worthless unless she could bring in male witnesses to back her up. She tried to counter with videos of him that she said showed him rolling a joint to smoke hashish, talking on the phone about his marijuana use and screaming at Ms. Vierra, all with Zeina in the room. Though he acknowledged his drug use, he accused her in court of giving him the drugs and of forcing him to say he was an atheist, both of which Ms. Vierra denies.

In the end, the judge found both parents unfit to raise Zeina, awarding custody instead to the husband’s mother. But Ms. Vierra did not find this comforting; she said her ex-husband’s sister had testified that their mother had hit them and emotionally abused them as children.

“This is not just my story — there’s much worse. It’s hard to believe stuff like this can happen.”

The Independent article is here.

 

International Divorce and Jurisdiction

If Britain has the biggest pay-outs for divorcing spouses, can anyone file for divorce there? The ex-wife of a Russian oligarch, who was denied permission to pursue her international divorce claims against her husband’s $19 billion fortune, just found out about jurisdiction the hard way.

International Divorce and Jurisdiction

To Russia With Love

Natalia Potanina, 58 was attempting to secure an increased pay out through English courts from her former husband, Vladimir Potanin – Russia’s second richest man, claiming that the initial amount she received left her facing ‘hardship’ and did not meet her ‘reasonable needs.’

Ms Potanina claimed that she was only given $41.5 million when the couple divorced in 2014 but deserved considerably more because of the role she played in helping to build her husband’s extensive business empire.

She was attempting to launch a case in the English courts, where divorce pay outs are notoriously high, protesting that when she tried in Russia she got considerably less because of her husband’s ‘wealth, power and influence,’ which denied her a fair settlement.

She also alleged that he had secreted his vast wealth out of her reach in a complex web of offshore companies while pleading to judges in Moscow that he had virtually no assets.

International Divorce Issues

International divorce often brings up the issue of jurisdiction. Who sues whom, how do you sue for divorce, and in what country are problems in an international divorce case. The answers are more difficult than people think as I have written before.

A British divorce might give more money because British courts can disregard prenuptial agreements, and the cost of living is high in London. However, in Florida, the outcome could be different still.

Rules about children and hiding assets is a problem in every divorce, especially in international cases. The problem of discovery of hidden wealth is even bigger in an international divorce because multiple countries, and multiple rules on discovery, can be involved. The problems in an international divorce are more complicated because hiding assets from a spouse is much easier in some countries than in others.

Florida, at one extreme, requires complete disclosure of assets and liabilities. In fact, in Florida certain financial disclosure is mandatory. At the other extreme, are countries which require very little disclosure from people going through divorce.

Choosing possible countries to file your divorce in can be construed as “forum shopping”. The European Union introduced a reform called Brussels II, which prevents “forum shopping”, with a rule that the first court to be approached decides the divorce. But the stakes are high: ending up in the wrong legal system, or with the wrong approach, may mean not just poverty but misery.

Residency for divorce is a very important jurisdictional requirement in every case. Generally, the non-filing party need not be a resident in the state in order for the court to divorce the parties under the divisible divorce doctrine. The court’s personal jurisdiction over the non-filing spouse is necessary only if the court enters personal orders regarding the spouse.

The durational domicile or residency requirement goes to the heart of the court’s ability to divorce the parties, because the residency of a party to a divorce creates a relationship with the state to justify its exercise of power over the marriage.

Back in the USSR

Lawyers acting for her husband took the matter to the High Court in London, asking for her English legal bid to be thrown out during a three-day hearing which took place last month. Delivering his judgment, Mr. Justice Cohen said that the claim that Mrs. Potanina received $41.5 million was ‘untrue and that the real figure was actually over $84 million. In addition to this, she also received $7.3 million in child maintenance. She also purchased a home in Long Island, New York, soon after the divorce, which is worth $6.5 million.

To most people it would seem inconceivable that someone who has received an award of $40-80 million could argue that reasonable needs have not been met, but each case is fact-specific and I accept that the wife could argue that her reasonable needs have not been met. However, the other 16 factors mitigate strongly against her claim proceeding.

If this claim is allowed to proceed then there is effectively no limit to divorce tourism”

Potanina is “very disappointed” and plans to appeal, the judge said. Lawyers for both sides declined to comment. Potanin, Russia’s richest tycoon with $27 billion fortune, is considered to be one of the few “oligarchs,” who became rich under first Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He also plays hockey at the so-called Night Hockey league, sometimes against President Vladimir Putin.

The judge dismissed arguments from Potanina that she couldn’t obtain justice in Russia, saying the local courts properly applied the law. Potanina said that her husband was “too powerful.”

“I do not believe that there is anything more I could have done to obtain justice in Russia. It was an impossible task,” she said in a written submission cited by the judge.

The couple lived in Russia for the length of their marriage, before Potanina moved to England in 2014, the judge said. Her first contact after her arrival appears to have been to obtain advice from London divorce lawyers, the judge said in his ruling.

The Bloomberg article is here.

 

International Divorce Problems

The housewife in the middle of one of Britain’s biggest international divorce cases has finally succeeded in serving her billionaire ex-husband legal papers after an attempt to serve them via the messaging app WhatsApp failed, a British court has ruled.

international divorce

Russian Meddling

Tatiana Akhmedova, who is in her 40s, was awarded a 41.5 per cent share of Russian businessman Farkhad Akhmedov’s estate by a British divorce court judge in December 2016. His fortune is estimated to be worth more than £1bn and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said Ms Akhmedova, who is British, should walk away with £453m.

However, Mrs. Justice Gwynneth Knowles, sitting in the High Court’s family division, said Mr Akhmedov, 64, had “regrettably” not “voluntarily paid a penny” of the money owed and that around £5m had been paid after enforcement.

The judge said she had been trying to serve the application by WhatsApp. That had not worked, ‘probably’ because Mr Akhmedov had blocked the number. An attempt at delivering documents to Mr Akhmedov’s office in Moscow had been ‘refused’.

Mrs. Justice Gwynneth Knowles says Ms Akhmedova has succeeded in serving legal papers relating to an application for asset freezing orders on Mr Akhmedov.

The judge heard that Farkhad Akhmedov had not voluntarily paid a penny to his ex-wife. The judge heard that Farkhad Akhmedov had not voluntarily paid a penny to his ex-wife. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave has ruled that Mr Akhmedov’s £346million yacht, the MV Luna, should be transferred into her name.

International Divorce Issues

Who sues whom, how do you sue for divorce, and in what country are problems in an international divorce? The answers are more difficult than people think. A British divorce might give more money because British courts can disregard prenuptial agreements, and the cost of living is high in London.

In France, things could be very different. Adultery can be penalized, but in the typical French divorce, any alimony could be less and for eight years at most; and prenuptial agreements are binding.

However, in Florida, the outcome could be different still. Under Florida law, alimony is constantly under threat of a major revision by the legislature, and child support is governed by a formula. Courts may award attorneys’ fees, and prenuptial agreements are generally enforceable.

Rules about children can differ too. I’ve written on international divorces, especially as they relate to child custody issues and The Hague Convention on abduction.

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. 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.

Hiding assets is a problem in every divorce, especially the British case. The problem of discovery of hidden wealth is even bigger in an international divorce because multiple countries, and multiple rules on discovery, can be involved. The problems in an international divorce are more complicated because hiding assets from a spouse is much easier in some countries than in others.

Florida, at one extreme, requires complete disclosure of assets and liabilities. In fact, in Florida certain financial disclosure is mandatory. At the other extreme, are countries which require very little disclosure from people going through divorce.

Choosing possible countries to file your divorce in can be construed as “forum shopping”. The European Union introduced a reform called Brussels II, which prevents “forum shopping”, with a rule that the first court to be approached decides the divorce. But the stakes are high: ending up in the wrong legal system, or with the wrong approach, may mean not just poverty but misery.

Back in Britain

Ms Akhmedova had begun legal action in Britain and abroad, taking steps to freeze his assets. Analyzing the latest stage of litigation, a judge said Ms Akhmedova has at last succeeded in serving legal papers to her ex-husband in relation to an application to freeze assets.

But the judge said the papers were successfully served on August 22 after an email was sent to Mr Akhmedov’s personal email address without a bounce back. The judge has given details of the hearing in a ruling summarizing the latest developments in the case. Neither of the respondents attended the hearing.

A spokesman for Mr Akhmedov has said his ex-wife’s attempts to seize his assets were “as misguided as the original English High Court” ruling.

The Telegraph article is here.

 

An American learns about Divorce and Housing in Saudi Arabia

An American nurse involved in a long divorce battle in Saudi Arabia, and claims authorities have consistently discriminated against her because she is a foreign woman, is getting a quick lesson on who pays for temporary housing costs in the desert kingdom.

Divorce Housing Costs

Shifting Sands

Teresa Malof, 51, says she has been mistreated in her attempts to divorce her ex-husband Mazen al-Mubarak, the father to her three children. Malof, who is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, married al-Mubarak in 2000 and filed for divorce in 2015. While the divorce was approved, the settlement is now bogged down in the courts and entering its fifth year.

al-Mubarak, the son of Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Qatar, has used his wife’s unfamiliarity with the Saudi legal system and inability to speak Arabic to turn the tables against her, she told Insider.

The most obvious injustice, in Malof’s view, is that al-Mubarak lived alone in a house in Riyadh for many years, for which she paid the mortgage of $2,831 a month for years while he lived in it alone.

According to Insider, which has reviewed official Saudi court documents, the court documents confirm that she launched legal proceedings to evict her ex-husband, made payments for the house while he lived there, and that she submitted formal complaints about the judge’s conduct.

It came to a head in August 2018 when she broke into her house and changed the locks while al-Mubarak was abroad, she said. Malof claimed that recently the judge in her case abruptly annulled her divorce, making her technically married again. Malof contends that the judge did not have the power to do this.

“I just want it to be finished,” Malof told Insider. “Foreign women are discriminated against here in the courts.”

The US Embassy in Riyadh confirmed to Insider that it was assisting Malof. US Embassy press attaché Peter Brown said: “We are aware of the case and providing appropriate consular services. Due to pending legal proceedings, we have nothing further to share.”

Florida Divorce Housing Costs

I’ve written about the marital house during a divorce before. In a dissolution of marriage, temporary alimony can be awarded so that the home mortgage is paid for. Each party’s sources of income and ability to pay are factors to be considered in determining whether alimony is appropriate, and if so, in what amounts.

There are a few other issues when it comes to housing in divorce:

Children’s Issues

Until a divorce parenting plan in place, if you are interested in maintaining a meaningful relationship in your child’s life, leaving the home before a timesharing agreement is entered may show a lack of real interest in the child’s daily life.

Moving out can create the appearance of a new ‘primary residential parent’ by default. Worse, if the process takes a long time, it creates a new status quo.

Cost

The person leaving during a divorce may still have to contribute for the expenses of the home while also paying for a new home. It can be costly, and prohibitive expensive when you know that the process will take a long time.

Settlement

Staying in the same home could create an incentive to negotiate a final settlement because living with your soon to be ex-spouse is very uncomfortable. However, if someone moves out, the person remaining in the home is sitting pretty and may be less inclined to settle.

Fold Up the Tent?

Malof told Insider that her house, in the al-Khozama district of Riyadh, was part of the agreement when the two split. She said al-Mubarak agreed to pay for $183,000 for it, but has yet to produce the money. Malof has been prevented from selling the house by the judge’s decision to freeze the deed at the request of al-Mubarak. Malof has compiled a wide-ranging list of grievances against the court.

She claims that the judge has held court hearings without her knowledge, has omitted evidence from court minutes, has refused to give her an interpreter, credited her with making statements that she never uttered, and has met with al-Mubarak separately behind closed doors.

Malof says she was not informed of hearings on April 11, June 25, and September 5 last year. The last of these, she says, was the one where the judge froze the deed on her house, blocking her from selling it. Malof told Insider that the judge “has put several times in the minutes that there is an ‘agreement’ between me and al-Mubarak and the house is shared, which is not true.” Minutes are the formal legal record of how a case is progressing.

The case follows that of Bethany Vierra, a US citizen who became trapped in Saudi Arabia by the Kingdom’s guardianship laws in March, and later lost custody of her child when her ex-husband used images of her in a bikini to show she was unfit to parent.

Malof’s and Vierra’s stories highlight the reality for non-Saudis under their legal system, which is based on the Qur’an, which contains God’s revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, and the Sunnah, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

In some cases, evidence submitted to court is invalid unless witnessed by two Muslim men.

Malof was given an attorney by the Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission at first, but has now hired her own, Hazim al-Madani. “I have lived in this country for more than twenty years” she told Insider. “Going public and talking badly about Saudi Arabia has never been my goal. However, what choice do I have?”

The Insider 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.

 

 

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.