Tag: UCCJEA and Hague

New Hague Child Abduction Case

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a new opinion, its fifth, in a case involving the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In settling the circuit court conflict, the Supreme Court addressed the undertakings requirement in grave risk cases.

Hague Convention

Last Supper for Undertakings Plus?

Narkis Golan is a U.S. citizen who married Isacco Saada, an Italian citizen in Milan, Italy. She soon moved to Milan, and their son, B.A.S., was born in Milan, They lived in Milan for the first two years of B.A.S.’ life.

But their marriage was violent from the beginning. The two fought on an almost daily basis and, during their arguments, Saada would sometimes push, slap, and grab Golan and pull her hair, yelled and swore at her and frequently insulted her and called her names. Much of Saada’s abuse of Golan occurred in front of his son.

In 2018, Golan flew with B.A.S. to the United States to attend her brother’s wedding. Rather than return as scheduled, she moved into a domestic violence shelter.

Saada filed in Italy a criminal complaint for kidnapping and initiated a civil proceeding seeking sole custody of B.A.S., and also filed a petition under the Hague Convention and ICARA in a New York District Court seeking to return their son to Italy.

The U.S. District Court granted Saada’s petition, determining Italy was the child’s habitual residence and that Golan had wrongfully retained him in violation of Saada’s rights of custody.

But the trial court found returning the child to Italy would expose him to a grave risk of harm because Saada was “violent — physically, psychologically, emotionally, and verbally — to” Golan and the child was present for much of it.

Records also indicated that Italian social services had also concluded that “‘the family situation entails a developmental danger’ for the child and that Saada had demonstrated no “capacity to change his behavior.”

The trial court still ordered the child’s return to Italy based on Second Circuit precedent that it “‘examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child to the home country’” before denying return. To comply with these precedents, the District Court required the parties to propose “‘ameliorative measures’” for the child’s safe return.

The trial court rejected Golan’s argument that Saada could not be trusted to comply with a court order, expressing confidence in the Italian courts’ abilities to enforce the protective order.

The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding the trial did not clearly err in determining that Saada likely would comply with the Italian protective order, given his compliance with other court orders and the threat of enforcement by Italian authorities of its order.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the circuit split and decide whether ameliorative measures must be considered after a grave risk finding.

Florida Child Abduction

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction cases under the Hague Convention. The Convention is supposed to provide remedies for a left-behind parent, like Mr. Saada, to obtain a wrongfully removed or retained child to the country of their habitual residence.

When a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, the Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith.”

There are defenses though. For example, in the Golan case, the court considered Article 13(b), which states that a court is not bound to order the return of the child if the court finds that return would expose the child to a “grave risk” of physical or psychological harm.

The grave risk defense is narrowly drawn. There is an assumption that courts in the left behind country can protect children, which is why courts in some circuits are required to consider ameliorative measures.

New Hague

Il Duomo di Washington D.C.

The Supreme Court noted that the interpretation of a treaty, like the Hague Convention, begins with its text, and nothing in the Convention’s text either forbids or requires consideration of ameliorative measures.

The Court held that judges may consider ameliorative measures with the grave risk determination, but the Convention does not require it. By requiring ameliorative measures, the Second Circuit’s rule re-wrote the treaty by imposing an atextual, categorical requirement that courts consider all possible ameliorative measures in exercising this discretion, regardless of whether such consideration is consistent with the Convention’s objectives.

The Court also held that a trial court “ordinarily should address ameliorative measures raised by the parties or obviously suggested by the circumstances of the case, such as in the example of the localized epidemic.”

First, any consideration of ameliorative measures must prioritize the child’s physical and psychological safety. Second, consideration of ameliorative measures should abide by the Convention’s requirement that courts addressing return petitions do not usurp the role of the court that will adjudicate the underlying custody dispute. Third, any consideration of ameliorative measures must accord with the Convention’s requirement that courts “act expeditiously in proceedings for the return of children.

The Court then remanded to allow the District Court to apply the proper legal standard. Recognizing that remand would delay the case, the opinion hinted the District Court will move “as expeditiously as possible to reach a final decision without further unnecessary delay.”

The opinion is here.

 

Upcoming Speaking Engagement on Interstate and International Jurisdiction

Honored to be asked to speak on interstate and international jurisdiction at the 2022 Marital & Family Law Review Course. The program is live this year at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center from January 21, 2022 to January 22, 2022.

Limited rooms are still available and an additional block of rooms was just made available at the nearby Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista. The prestigious Certification Review course is one of largest and most popular CLE presentations, and is a partnership between the Florida Bar Family Law Section and the AAML Florida Chapter.

Interstate Child Custody

Family law today frequently involves interstate child custody, interstate family support, and The Hague Convention on international child abductions.

Parents are increasingly moving from state to state and country to country for various reasons. Whether children are moved by parents wrongfully or not, that moving makes interstate and international child custody complicated. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and The Hague Convention on Child Abduction, can work together in those cases.

Florida and almost all U.S. states passed the UCCJEA into law. The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

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

International Child Abductions

I have written about the Hague Convention before. All family lawyers have to become more familiar with the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also known as The Hague Convention on Child Abduction. This international treaty exists to protect children from international abductions by requiring the prompt return to their habitual residence.

The issue of international child abductions is also a fast-moving area of law. The U.S. Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in a case less than two years after issuing its last Hague Convention opinion.

The Hague Convention applies only in jurisdictions that have signed the convention, and its reach is limited to children ages 16 and under. Essentially, The Hague Convention helps families more quickly revert back to the “status quo” child custody arrangement before an unlawful child abduction.

Interstate Family Support

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act is one of the uniform acts drafted by the Uniform Law Commission. First developed in 1992, the UIFSA resolves interstate jurisdictional disputes about which states can properly establish and modify child support and spousal support orders. The UIFSA also controls the issue of enforcement of family support obligations within the United States.

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which required all U.S. states adopt UIFSA, or face loss of federal funding for child support enforcement. Every U.S. state has adopted some version of UIFSA to resolve interstate disputes about support.

Certification Review Course

It is a privilege to be asked to speak on interstate jurisdiction and international child abductions at the annual Marital & Family Law Review Course again. The annual seminar is the largest and most prestigious advanced family law course in Florida. Last year’s audience included over 1,800 attorneys and judges from around the state.

The program is live this year, will not be broadcasted, and space is limited.

Register for the remaining spaces here.

Enforcing Interstate Child Custody Orders

An important aspect of child custody involves enforcing interstate orders in different states because parents move around the country all the time. If you have a child custody order from say, North Carolina, and you want to enforce or modify it in another state, you must register it the right way.

Interstate Custody

Carolina in My Mind

One interstate case showed the problems that can result if the rules are not followed. A father with a daughter was divorced in Florida in 2016. The parties lived for a while in North Carolina too, and the Father had obtained a North Carolina custody order. When they divorced in Florida, they domesticated their 2014 North Carolina order in Florida. The North Carolina order awarded full legal custody of the daughter to the father, and the mother was given visitation.

Fast forward to 2020, and the mother filed her own ex parte emergency petition in Florida to domesticate a new North Carolina custody order in Florida. This new order was completely different, and awarded the mother emergency custody of the daughter.

However, even though the petition was ex parte and titled an “emergency”, the mother’s petition did not allege any kind of emergency situation. But mistakes happen. That same day, a Florida family judge entered an order granting the mother’s petition and domesticating the January 2020 North Carolina custody order in Florida.

The new Florida order did not list any emergency situation and was never served on the father, so the father didn’t have any notice of it. To his shock, the police showed up one night and the child was taken from him. Afterwards, the father filed a motion to vacate and set aside the Florida ex parte order, but the family judge in Florida denied it.

The Father appealed.

Florida Interstate Child Custody

I’ve written and spoken about interstate child custody issues before. The typical interstate problems occur in cases in which two parents reside in one state, like North Carolina for instance, then one or more of the parents and the children move across state lines to Florida.

Interstate problems can include enforcing foreign custody orders, enforcing or modifying family support orders (like alimony and child support), or enforcing foreign money judgments.

To help with confusion between different laws in different American states, the Uniform Law Commission is tasked with drafting laws on various subjects that attempt to bring uniformity across American state lines.

With respect to family law, different American states had previously adopted different approaches to issues related to interstate custody, interstate alimony, and child support. The results were that different states had conflicting resolutions to the same problems.

To seek harmony in this area, the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA) and Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (the UIFSA), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed into law.

A major problem arises when a foreign or out of state final judgment is not properly registered or domesticated in Florida. When that happens, a serious due process violation can occur, because people are entitled to notice.

Registration is not too complicated. Briefly, registration involves sending to the new state a letter requesting registration along with two copies of the order sought to be registered, a statement that the order has not been modified, the name and address of the person seeking registration, and any parent who has been awarded custody or visitation in the child custody determination sought to be registered.

Hit Me from Behind

On appeal, the Father complained that the family judge in Florida didn’t properly follow the registration requirements in the UCCJEA. The Act required the Mother to provide “the name and address of the person seeking registration and any parent or person acting as a parent who has been awarded custody or visitation in the child custody determination sought to be registered.”

The UCCJEA also requires the Florida family court to actually “[s]erve notice upon the persons named … and provide them with an opportunity to contest the registration in accordance with this section.”

On appeal, it was clear that the Florida court didn’t comply with the registration requirements of the UCCJEA. The Mother had failed to file the North Carolina final judgment or the accompanying documents as required.

In addition, the family court never provided the father with notice of the petition to domesticate the North Carolina order, thereby depriving the father of an opportunity to contest the validity of the North Carolina order – which is his right under the UCCJEA.

Because the Florida court failed to comply with the registration requirements of the UCCJEA and deprived the father with an opportunity to be heard, the resulting Florida order was declared void.

The case is here.

 

New Article “Like Home: The New Definition of Habitual Residence”

My new article “Like Home: The New Definition of Habitual Residence”, discusses habitual residence under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Oct. 25, 1980 and the federal International Child Abduction Remedies Act. The article is now available in the Florida Bar Journal.

New Article

American courts have had different standards for determining a child’s “habitual residence” under the Hague Convention. The controversy? How to establish a child’s habitual residence and what appellate standard of review should be applied after making that determination. The U.S. Supreme Court has now squarely addressed the conflict about habitual residence.

This new article examines the Hague Convention on international child abductions, ICARA, the U.S. Supreme Court decision, and . . . the Wizard of Oz.

The article is available 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.

 

International Child Custody and a Washington Woman in Saudi Arabia

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

International Child Custody

Shifting Sands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida and the UCCJEA

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

When a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, the Hague Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith” and “shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody.”

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where:

it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and

at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

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

Florida and almost all U.S. states passed the UCCJEA into law. The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

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

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

A Washington Yogi in King Salman’s Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wall Street Journal article is here.