Monday, May 31, 2021

The Hague Abduction Convention: Practical Issues and Procedures for Family Lawyers, Third Edition

By Jeremy D. Morley

In a practice that increasingly involves cross-border issues, a growing number of clients fear their children may be abducted, are concerned about overseas travel, or are considering international marriage or divorce. Written to help family lawyers best represent clients and their children, this updated edition explains all aspect of how the Hague Convention works in the United States.

Every family lawyer should understand the workings of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This updated third edition of The Hague Abduction Convention explains for family lawyers how this critical treaty works in the United States, both in theory and in practice. The renowned author, Jeremy D. Morley, has enormous experience counseling clients and fellow practitioners as to international family law matters globally, as well as lecturing on international child custody law to audiences around the world.

Click here for further details.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Enforcement of Child Custody Orders in Japan

 by Jeremy D Morley


An amendment to Japan's Civil Procedure Law enters into force on June 1, 2021, intended to promote enforcement of Japanese civil custody orders. Although the new law may be helpful it will provide no benefit to non-custodial parents seeking to enforce their visitation rights.

Japanese law continues to provide that only one parent may have custody after a divorce, even if it established that both parents are ideal care providers. There is mounting pressure in Japan to change the law but that has not yet occurred. Accordingly, the only right that a non-custodial may enjoy in Japan is visitation. Even here, however, the visitation rights of a non-custodial parent are generally limited in the extreme.

Traditionally, Japanese court orders in family matters have been entirely unenforceable. That has changed slightly in recent years. The new law is intended to assist in such enforcement. However, it will benefit only the custodial parent. It simply allows for “direct enforcement” of the custodial parent’s right to secure the return of a child who has been removed or retained from that parent’s custody. Since custody after a divorce is usually given to the parent who has previously had the child in his or her possession, the law will now enhance the parent’s ability to enforce sole custody rights.

It is unfortunate that the new legislation provides no assistance to the non-custodial parent’s rights of visitation.

Japanese courts generally limit visitation to a couple of hours once a month in the daytime, in the area where the child is living, unless the parties agree otherwise. To make matters even worse, custodial parents can usually rely successfully on a multiplicity of acceptable excuses for non-compliance with visitation orders. The only way to seek enforcement of these rights is to seek some kind of financial sanction, which is often described as equivalent to a parking ticket. There is no contempt of court for the violation of court orders concerning family law matters in Japan and the only available remedy is the limited financial claim, which is generally difficult to secure and ineffective.

At least the new law might make it a little more likely that custodial parents will agree to allow a little more visitation, since they will now have the availability of a potential remedy if the child is not returned. I have repeatedly explained that in Japan possession is 99% of the law and it may be that the new legislation may lead to a modest change in that regard.

Yesterday I testified on such issues as an expert witness in a case in California concerning a Japanese mother's application to relocate the children from California to Japan. It is most unfortunate that the relocation applications of Japanese parents who wish to move with their children back to Japan must normally be denied because of the failure of the Japanese courts to enforce the provisions of foreign custody orders concerning the sharing of custody between the parents and concerning the rights of a non-residential parents to have liberal access to their children in Japan and in the country where the non-residential parent is living.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Brazil: 2021 State Department's Annual Report on International Child Abduction

Country Summary: The Convention has been in force between the United States and Brazil since 2003. In 2020, Brazil continued to demonstrate a pattern of noncompliance. Specifically, the Brazilian judicial authorities failed to regularly implement and comply with the provisions of the Convention. Additionally, the competent authorities failed to take appropriate steps to locate a child in an abduction case, contributing to Brazil’s persistent failure to implement and abide by the provisions of the Convention. As a result of these persistent failures, 75 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the Convention remained unresolved for more than 12 months. On average, these cases were unresolved for three years and eight months. Brazil was previously cited for demonstrating a pattern of noncompliance in the 2006-2020 Annual Reports. 

Initial Inquiries: In 2020, the Department received three initial inquiries from parents regarding possible abductions to Brazil for which no completed applications were submitted to the Department.

In a majority of cases open at the end of calendar year 2020 in which there are judicial delays, the Brazilian Central Authority reported that Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry (MPF) was involved at some point. In some instances, it appeared that MPF intervention impacted cases. In other instances, actions by the MPF appeared to lengthen judicial proceedings in Brazil. 

Central Authority: The U.S. and Brazilian Central Authorities have a strong and productive relationship.

Voluntary Resolution: The Convention states that central authorities “shall take all appropriate measures to secure the voluntary return of the child or to bring about an amicable resolution of the issues.” In 2020, one abduction case was resolved through voluntary means before the case was filed with the Brazilian Central Authority, and the child returned to the United States. 

Brazil demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance with the Convention as a result of failure by the competent authorities to take appropriate steps to locate children after a Convention application was filed. As a result, there is one case (accounting for 11 percent of the unresolved cases) that has been pending for more than 12 months where law enforcement has failed to locate the children, leading to significant delays in initiating the legal proceedings. The average time to locate a child was 37 days.

 Judicial Authorities: There were serious delays by the Brazilian judicial authorities in deciding Convention cases. As a result of these delays, cases may be pending with the judiciary for over one year, contributing to a pattern of noncompliance. In 2020, the Department was again unaware of any Brazilian efforts to address judicial delays, despite repeated engagement during the year by the Ambassador, senior Mission personnel, and the Department with counterparts Brazil, continued 32 in the Brazilian government. This failure to improve Convention implementation continues in the form of delays at the first-instance, the appellate, and the enforcement stages. As a result, the Department remains deeply concerned with the Brazilian judiciary’s repeated failure to regularly implement and comply with the provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention. Moreover, the U.S. Central Authority is deeply concerned by language that was clearly non-compliant with the Convention in more than one judicial decision. In these decisions, the courts used inaccurate definitions for a defense to a return claim. 

Enforcement: While courts in Brazil ordered returns under the Convention, Brazilian authorities were not able to enforce these orders. In one notable case, after 11 years of litigation at all levels of the Brazilian judiciary, the Brazilian Central Authority reported that the Brazilian court still failed to enforce its own judiciary’s order for return. Moreover, judicial decisions in Convention cases in Brazil were generally not enforced by the judiciary, which contributed to a pattern of noncompliance. 

Access: In 2020, the U.S. Central Authority acted on a total of two open access cases under the Convention in Brazil. Both of these cases were opened prior to 2020. Both cases had been filed with the Brazilian Central Authority. By December 31, 2020, both of these cases had been resolved. Department 

Recommendations: The Department will continue intense engagement with Brazilian authorities to address issues of concern and will consider actions to prompt better Brazilian compliance with the Convention.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

UCCJEA in International Cases: Home State, Temporary Absence Overseas & Human Rights Issues.

by Jeremy D. Morley

Difficult issues arise under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act when children are taken overseas for visits and do not return. A recent New York case illustrates some of the issues.

In Kassim v. Al-Maliki, 2021 WL 1774145 (NY App. Div. 2d. Dept. May 5, 2021), the Appellate Division, Second Department reviewed a Family Court order dismissing a petition for habeas corpus and custody of children who were taken from New York City to Yemen in 2016 where they have since remained. The father claimed that he and his wife consensually relocated to Yemen with the children. The mother claimed that they went to Yemen for a visit and that after they arrived there the father confiscated her and the children’s passports. She further explained that it was only after she signed a divorce agreement under duress that she was given her own passport and that she had then returned alone to the United States. Once she was back in New York, she had commenced a case against the father for habeas corpus and child custody. 

The Family Court dismissed the case without a hearing for lack of subject matter jurisdiction since the children had long been in Yemen, and the mother appealed.

The appeal court overturned the dismissal of the case. It ruled that the trial court “erred in concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to determine the mother’s petition without conducting a hearing” as to the issue of whether New York or Yemen was the child’s home state, since “there are disputed issues of fact regarding the circumstances under which the parties moved from New York to Yemen.” 

In substantial part, the issue in the case concerns the provisions of section 102(7) of the UCCJEA that a “period of temporary absence” from a state counts as part of the required period six consecutive months of residency in the state before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. On this issue, see Jeremy D. Morley, International Family Law Practice, Sec. 7:6. (Westlaw INTFLP § 7:6).

Courts have developed three distinct tests to determine whether absences are temporary or permanent:

1. Duration. Some courts focus solely on the length of the absence, holding that the child's physical location must be the central issue. 

2. Intent. Some courts consider the intent of the parties, and specifically whether the parties intended to be away for a limited amount of time and which state they viewed as their place of permanent domicile. 

3. Totality of Circumstances. Finally, some courts require an examination of all the circumstances surrounding the absence, including the duration of the absence, whether the parties intended the absence to be permanent or temporary, and any additional relevant circumstances. The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Monasky v. Taglieri, 140 S. Ct. 719 (2020), applying a totality of circumstances test to the interpretation of the key term of “habitual residence” in the Hague Abduction Convention, may well encourage the use of the same test for interpreting “temporary absence” in the UCCJEA. 

A separate issue, not addressed by the Appellate Division decision but likely to arise on the remand of the case to the Family Court, is whether the child custody law of Yemen falls within the scope of the “escape clause” contained in UCCJEA Section 105(c), as expanded in New York pursuant to Section 75- d (c) of the Domestic Relation law.

The UCCJEA Model Act provides (UCCJEA § 105(a)) that a court “shall treat a foreign country as if it were a state of the United States for the purpose of applying” the statute, but in Section 105(c) that this need not apply “if the child custody law of [the] foreign country violates fundamental principles of human rights.”  The language is extremely narrow. It extends only to a “child custody law” that “violates fundamental principles of human rights” and appears on its face to be limited to the law as written in a foreign statute. 

However, New York has expanded the scope of the escape clause significantly. The New York legislature added the words, “or as applied” to the provision, so that it reads, “(c) A court of this state need not apply this article if the child custody law of a foreign country as written or as applied violates fundamental principles of human rights.” (Domestic Relations Law, Sec. 75-d(c)). On these issues, see Jeremy D. Morley, International Family Law Practice. §§ 7:23 – 7:28 (Westlaw INTFLP § 7:23 et seq.).

This will presumably allow a court in New York to consider both Yemen’s laws concerning child custody as they are written in the Personal Status Law of Yemen, which contains arbitrary provisions based on age, gender and religion, and also how those laws are actually applied in practice. 


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Court Delays in Colombia

A factor to take into account, among very many others, when considering issues concerning the need to use the courts in Colombia to secure the return of children who have been abducted to that country, is the extreme delays that plague the judicial process there.

Indeed, according to the World Justice Project’s current Rule of Law Index, surveying 128 countries, Colombia ranks almost bottom, at 124th.

Likewise, the World Bank Group has determined that it takes an average of 1,288 days to enforce a contract in Colombia, as compared to 590 days in OECD countries, with an average legal fee and expense cost of 45.8% of the claim value in Colombia as compared to 21.5% in OECD countries.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021


 by Jeremy D. Morley

Hungary does not comply with its obligation under the Hague Abduction Convention to promptly return children who are wrongfully taken to Hungary or retained in Hungary.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe determined on December 3, 2020 that Hungary's failure to meet its obligations under the Convention was so serious that certain specific cases should be reviewed by the Ministers under a special “enhanced supervision” procedure that is reserved for extraordinary cases.

The European Court of Human Rights (the “ECHR”) has reprimanded Hungary on several occasions for flagrant violations of the human rights of left-behind parents whose children have been abducted to Hungary and have never been returned to their prior habitual residence. The European Union's Ministers have now brought the issue to a level of greater seriousness.

It should be noted that in its 2021 Annual Report on International Child Abduction the U.S. State Department lists Hungary as being compliant with the Convention. This is highly misleading. The Department received no completed requests for assistance in 2020 or several prior years for abductions to Hungary.

Having worked on international child custody matters concerning Hungary for many years, and having presented expert evidence on such matters, it is apparent that the problems include the following:

- Hungarian courts frequently misinterpret the Hague Convention's terms, such as “habitual residence,” in favor of the taking parent.
- There is no effective procedure within Hungary to enforce court custody orders. Pursuant to the governing Hungarian legislation, the enforcement of final and effective judicial custody and visitation decisions is not within the competence of the court handling the Hague case. The body that is responsible for enforcement cases is the local “Custody Authority.” The Custody Authorities do not have sufficient coercive power and their procedure is slow and inefficient. As a result, even a favorable Hague decision is often completely futile because it is not enforced.
- It typically happens that if, as and when enforcement is finally employed, the taking parent cannot be found. The “bailiff” cannot issue a search warrant with criminal consequences but merely reports the matter to the police.
- The passage of time in such circumstances typically leads to the child becoming well integrated into the new environment, which helps to create new defenses for the taking parent.

- It is common for the taking parent to successfully preclude the left-behind parent from having any contact with the child during the lengthy court proceedings, thereby enabling a psychologist to subsequently declare that there would be a “grave risk” of harm to the child if the child were sent back to the former residence, especially if the taking parent were not to accompany the child. 

The cases heard by the ECHR concerning Hungary's failure to comply with the Hague Abduction Convention include the following:

  1. Tonello v. Hungary (Application no. 46524/14)

In this case, the child was wrongfully retained in Hungary in 2011 away from her habitual residence in Italy. In 2012, the Hungarian courts ordered that the child must be returned to Italy. That order was never enforced. Although arrest warrants were ultimately issued against the mother, and for reasons that are difficult to understand, the Prosecution Office in Hungary dismissed the criminal charges as “unsubstantiated” and the mother's name was deleted from a list of people who were wanted under an arrest warrant. A host of subsequent proceedings ensued, all without success. In 2018, the ECHR ruled that Hungary had violated Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, which provides that, “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life.”

  1. Cavani v. Hungary (Application no. 5493/13),

In Cavani v. Hungary, the children's mother abducted the children from Italy to Hungary in 2005. The Pest Central District Court found that the mother was keeping the children in Hungary illegally in violation of Article 3 of the Convention but refused to order their return to Italy because at their young age the children needed to be cared for by their mother. That ruling was in absolute violation of the Convention since “best interests” must not be considered in a Hague case. On appeal, the Budapest Regional Court ordered that the children should be returned to Italy. However, the Hungarian authorities never enforced that order despite the ongoing efforts of the father, recounted at length in the European Court's ruling, throughout the next several years. The Hungarian authorities repeatedly claimed that they could not find the children. During all of this time the father never saw the children. Seven years after the abduction the children were found, but only because their school principal in Budakeszi, Hungary brought a court action in Hungary in which he stated that the children were in danger in their mother's custody and asked that they be placed in state protection. By this time the children could no longer speak Italian and were totally estranged from their father.

The ECHR ruled in 2014 that: “the Hungarian authorities failed to take adequate measures to facilitate the reunification of the applicants and [it] considers that the applicants must have suffered anguish and distress as a result of the forced separation and the perspective of the father and daughters never seeing each other again.” This was a clear violation of Article 8. However, the only award that it was empowered to make was a financial award to the father.

  1. Shaw v. Hungary(Case No. 6457/09)

In Shaw v. Hungary, the ECHR ruled that Hungary had violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to diligently process a Hague case brought by an Irish father to secure the return of his child from Hungary to France, where they lived, following the parents' divorce. The family lived in France. In 2007 the mother took the child to her native Hungary for what was supposed to be a Christmas vacation, but never returned the child. The father promptly brought a Hague case in Hungary and also obtained a custody order from the French courts but he never saw his daughter again.

A court in Pest, Hungary ordered the child's return and two appeal courts upheld the return order. The local bailiff twice unsuccessfully called on the mother to comply voluntarily with the court's order. Meanwhile, a French court issued a European arrest warrant for the mother for the offence of change of custody of a minor. She was then arrested in Hungary but was promptly released by the Budapest regional court on the ground that similar proceedings were pending before a Hungarian court. The mother then disappeared with the child and the Hungarian officials thereafter continuously claimed that they could not find her or the child.

Having exhausted his remedies in Hungary the father ultimately brought suit against the State of Hungary in the European Court of Human Rights. He complained that Hungary had violated his rights under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, upholding private and family life, by failing to take timely and adequate measures for him to be reunited with his daughter. The Hungarian government claimed that it had done everything possible to try to secure the child's return to France, but that the mother had absconded with the child which had temporarily prevented the authorities from taking any further measures.

Finding that the Hungarian state had violated the father's rights to family life, the ECHR ordered the payment of €20,000 for the anguish and distress he had suffered as a result of the insufficient measures taken by the Hungarian authorities and awarded €12,000 for legal and related expenses. However, the Court had no power to locate the child or to return the child to the father.

  1. Prizzia v. Hungary (Case No. 20255/12), 

In Prizzia v. Hungary the ECHR ruled that Hungary had violated its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to honor and implement the rights of a left-behind American father to have contact with his abducted son living in Hungary.

The parents lived in Virginia with their son. The Hungarian mother took the child to Budapest for a Christmas visit in 2003 and then refused to return him. The father promptly commenced a case in Hungary under the Hague Convention and traveled to Hungary on many subsequent occasions for the ensuing litigation. He lost at first instance on the improper ground that the mother was Hungarian and that it was better that her child lived in Hungary. On appeal he won but the media in Hungary complained that American authorities were “bullying” the Hungarian authorities and the Supreme Court of Hungary changed its earlier ruling and refused to return the child on the ground that he should not be separated from his Hungarian half-brother.

The father then engaged in several years of intense litigation in Hungary to try to at least get access to his son.  A court in Budapest ultimately gave some limited access rights to him but those rights could not be enforced. Ultimately the father was able to see his son very occasionally but only in Hungary and he was never able to take his son for visits to the United States. The Supreme Court of Hungary eventually ordered that there should be summer visits to the United States but the authorities in Hungary failed entirely to allow those rights to be enforced.

When the father had exhausted his remedies in Hungary, he brought suit against Hungary in the European Court. That Court eventually ruled in 2013 – ten years after the child was abducted -- that Hungary had violated the Convention by failing to provide the father with effective rights of access to his son. Once again, the Court merely made a financial award to the left-behind parent for legal fees and for “having suffered anguish and distress as a result of the withering ties with his son and the insufficient measures taken by the Hungarian authorities.”



Argentina: 2021 State Department's Annual Report on International Child Abduction

The U.S. State Department has recently released their annual report on International Child Abduction. The Department of State leads the U.S. government’s efforts to prevent and resolve international parental child abductions, as part of the Department’s mission to advance the interests and safety of the American people.

The 2021 Annual Report on International Child Abduction illustrates the Department of State’s efforts to prevent and resolve international parental child abductions during 2020. Despite continued progress, during 2021 some countries demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance as defined in the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2014. This Report cites eleven such countries.


Country Summary: The Convention has been in force between the United States and Argentina since 1991. In 2020, Argentina continued to demonstrate a pattern of noncompliance. Specifically, the Argentine judicial authorities failed to regularly implement and comply with the provisions of the Convention. As a result of this failure, 67 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the Convention remained unresolved for more than 12 months. On average, these cases were unresolved for six years. Argentina was previously cited for demonstrating a pattern of noncompliance in the 2015-2020 Annual Reports.

Initial Inquiries: In 2020, the Department received one initial inquiry from a parent regarding a possible abduction to Argentina for which no completed application was submitted to the Department.

Significant Developments: Draft legislation designed to address Argentina’s judicial delays, introduced in the Argentine legislature in 2018, was not enacted in 2020. Serious delays persisted within the Argentine judiciary in 2020, contributing to a pattern of noncompliance. Additionally, in 2020, there was a significant changeover of Argentine Central Authority officials working with the U.S. Central Authority, leading to some delays in communication.

Central Authority: While the U.S. and Argentine Central Authorities have a cooperative relationship, delays in communication about actions to address patterns of noncompliance are an area of concern. 

Location: The competent authorities took appropriate steps to locate a child after a Convention application was filed. It took eight days to locate this child. Judicial Authorities: There were serious delays by the Argentine judicial authorities in deciding Convention cases. As a result of these delays, cases may be pending with the judiciary for over one year, contributing to a pattern of noncompliance.

Enforcement: In one case pending for more than 11 years, Argentina has not enforced a return order for the last several years. Additionally, Argentina’s legal system allows multiple appeals both on the merits of the decision and on the manner in which the decisions are enforced, thereby creating excessive delays which contribute to a pattern of noncompliance.

Access: In 2020, the U.S. Central Authority had one open access case under the Convention in Argentina. This case was opened in 2018. This case has been filed with the Argentine Central Authority. No new cases were filed in 2020. By December 31, 2020, this case remained open. This case has been pending with the Argentine authorities for more than 12 months.

Department Recommendations: The Department will continue intense engagement with Argentine authorities to address issues of concern.