The Kansas City Star this week reported on a child custody case from Johnson County, Kansas in which the father is accused of unlawfully retaining his children outside the United States after the mother consented to his taking the children to Gaza for a family wedding.
According to the story, published on May 2, 2012, the couple’s divorce decree allows the father to relocate overseas with the children, but only if the mother signed off on the move. The criminal complaint for three counts of aggravated interference with parental custody alleges that the mother agreed only to a visit for up to three weeks and that the children would then return to the United States. But after the children left the country, three weeks came and went. And then the father sent a text “confirming her worst fears”: “Hey XXXXX, I want to let you know that me and kids are going to stay here and I enrolled the kids in school here. Also I will pay for your ticket to come and visit the kids as in the court agreement.”
And, as pointed out in the story, the mother now has limited avenues to force her children’s return. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, is an international multilateral treaty that provides a remedy for the wrongful removal or retention of children outside the country of their “habitual residence” is not in effect in the place where the children were taken. And the United States arrest warrant, which has been registered with INTERPOL, is also not recognized in the area to which the children were taken.
All of this tragic situation highlights the importance of qualified and knowledgeable legal representation in divorce and child custody situations. In this particular case, the mother represented herself throughout the divorce proceedings. And, although many protections against later abduction or unlawful retention were available – even when neither parent anticipated the other might later violate their trust – none were set out in the parties’ agreement. It is important in every divorce and child custody case that parents know what protections against abduction are available so that they know what they can later do if the worst happens. And that’s especially true in today’s increasingly multi-cultural society in which people with citizenship in other countries form a relationship and have children. It’s far easier to prevent a tragedy than correct one.
RONALD W. NELSON PA. A Kansas law firm focusing its practice on complex marital and non-marital domestic relations disputes, including separation and divorce, determination of parentage and associated issues (child custody, parenting time, spousal and child support) as well as the representation of parents in international and interstate child abduction and jurisdictional disputes. Trained in Collaborative Family law, the attorneys at Ronald W. Nelson PA are Fellows of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.