No Help for US Mother of Children Allegedly Kidnapped Abroad by Father

Woman marries immigrant. They have two children together.

Mother and Father divorce in Connecticut, where the family lived throughout the marriage. Mother is awarded sole custody of children by Connecticut court.

Father moves back to native Lebanon. Mother sends boys there for summer visitation with Father.

Seven months go by… Boys reportedly remain in Lebanon with Father. According to Mother, she has been allowed to speak to them only twice.

According to the article in the Lebanon Daily Star, in Lebanon, the father always wins custody – of boys once they are over 7 years of age.

Lebanon is not a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. And there is no extradition treaty between the US and Lebanon.

So it is irrelevant that Father is wanted on kidnaping charges in the US. According to the article, the US government can do nothing for the Mother or the children.

This happens all too often. Yet too many divorcing and divorced parents do not appreciate this danger, even in high-risk circumstances, as above – until it’s just too late.

Don’t be one of them.

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Domestic Abuse About Power and Control

Why do people who perpetrate domestic violence do it?

Power and control.

So reports the Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator, following two recent area murders stemming from domestic violence.

The article underscores that the attitude of abusers often carries over to their children, placing them at risk as well.

This reminder is timely, as we look ahead to Child Abuse Prevention Month in April and awareness-raising events such as Hands Around the Courthouse in Canton, Illinois.

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Adopting Related Foster Children

Generally when children are swept into the foster care system, authorities place them with relatives – if suitable relatives are willing and able to take them in.

A recent USA Today article reports that relatives are increasingly going much further, adopting these children as well.

This, of course, benefits foster children, especially displaced siblings and older children who are more difficult to place with strangers.

The article also highlights the various emotional challenges unique to adopting a related child out of foster care. For example:

“an Iowa grandmother … says she felt pressure to adopt her grandson but didn’t want his mom becoming his sister.”

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Family Attorneys Deliver Family Solutions – Now So Do Some Court Systems

The Utica (NY) Observer-Dispatcher recently ran an interesting article, New Court Combines Domestic Cases. In upstate NY, the article reports, they have been introducing Integrated Domestic Violence Court.

What’s that? In a nutshell, if family members appear in domestic violence court, any subsequent family legal matters (such as divorce, crimes between family members, custody and visitation issues, etc.) will be heard in that same courtroom, before that same judge.

Here in Florida, we have been gradually implementing throughout our state a variation on that theme. In Florida, we call itUnified Family Court. Under this new paradigm, all family type cases are now heard in a Unified Family Court by the same judge.

Although demanding of our judges and our court clerks, this new court model finally enables and empowers the courts to do what family lawyers have always done: (directly or indirectly) serve the family as a whole.

As part of this transformation of the family court system in Florida, Unified Family Court judges are reportedly receiving more comprehensive training in allied legal disciplines than previously. With a thus specially-trained presiding judge observing the entire family dynamic firsthand, he or she will be in far better position to rule holistically on all family-related legal issues.

As a bonus, the legal process should also be less disruptive and more beneficial for families.

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Poor Financial Communications Threaten Marriages

The Quad City (Davenport, IA) Times publishes an article whose theme is that incompatibilities in a couple’s money management styles are significant contributors to divorce.

There’s a lot of truth to that.

The article gives some tips to foster better financial communications and develop a common strategy – to make the marriage last.

But, if things don’t work out anyway, following the same advice can make a divorce go more smoothly and amicably too.

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Public Right to Know Vs. Individual Privacy

The Sunshine State has expansive Sunshine Laws, the popular name for legislation making records public. They reflect a strong public policy.

The internet has taken implementation of Sunshine Laws here in Florida and elsewhere to a new plane – a plane, some argue, that aids identity thieves and invades ordinary people’s privacy and, in some cases, makes them targets of violence and manipulation.

The issue is quite controversial and is fueling heated debate. As well it should.

A lot of the discussion really hinges on context. What type of information? Who is the custodian of the information?

The articles below represent a sampling of viewpoints and state laws and policies:

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May Boy Thwart Return to His Mother in the UK Under the Hague Convention?

Normally, a child custody dispute, whether local or international, is between two parents. Sometimes, it is between a parent and another relative (or guardian, or someone who has, in fact, been acting like a parent).

Now, a ten year old boy in South Africa is reportedly asking a South African court to recognize his legal standing to assert his wishes to remain in South Africa with his father, despite his mother’s application in the UK to have him returned to her custody in England, under international law codified in the Hague Convention.

The University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law is seeking permission to advise the court, as experts on the Hague Convention, as amicus curiae. The Centre will reportedly argue that the Hague Convention, as interpreted in cases, has increasingly upheld children’s rights over their parent’s rights.

The Hague Convention expressly allows as one possible defense the child’s objection to returning. But the court may also consider the age and maturity of the child expressing an objection.

According to the articles below, the boy only lived in England for one year. He reportedly stated in an affidavit for the South African court that he wasn’t happy in school there because the other children were rude and teased him.

The boy’s sister remains with their mother in England.

It is important to remember that the sole question to be decided in Hague Convention cases is jurisdiction: which nation will have the right to decide, in a second case, on the merits, which parent will ultimately get custody of the child.

Read more in The Mercury and The Star.

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DV Case Headed for US Supreme Court

A domestic violence case is reportedly set for oral argument next month before the US Supreme Court.

The female defendant in a Dallas criminal case allegedly illegally purchased seven guns for her boyfriend, out of fear that he would kill her and her two daughters if she didn’t help him. The woman was convicted of lying in her application for the guns, because she, in effect, denied that she was under indictment for (but not convicted of) a non-violent crime.

The woman appealed, among other things, the trial court’s exclusion of expert testimony on battered woman’s syndrome as part of her defense. The Supreme Court will not hear that argument though.

In our legal system, the state must prove a criminal defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But guilty of what? Every element required to meet the legal definition of the crime charged.

Based on that, the issue before the Supreme Court will actually be a narrow legal issue:

  1. Is lack of duress an element of the crime charged which the state must prove (beyond a reasonable doubt) as part of its case or
  2. Is duress merely a defense that the defendant must show as part of its defense to the charge?

The former standard, of course, makes it tougher for the state to convict. The Bush Administration reportedly urged the Supreme Court not to take this case and issue on.

Read more at The Family Violence Prevention Fund.

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Who Gets the Inheritance?

What happens to a spouse’s inheritance if there’s a divorce? That question comes up a lot.

And Smart Money tackles it in Hands Off My Inheritance.

The article’s analysis is generally consistent with Florida law. It is worth repeating that, to maintain an inheritance as separate property, inheriting spouses should take care with how they hold and use their inheritances.

Also, it’s important to understand that an inheritance, although not divided, is not ignored or irrelevant in the divorce. On the contrary, an inheritance may be taken into account in how other, marital property is divided – and in whether or how much spousal support there should be.

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ME: You Can Run But, If You Have a Cell Phone, You Can’t Hide

As too many custodial parents know, dedicated non-payors of support have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. In recent years, technology has inadvertently provided a new one.

In a relatively short time, the cell phone has become ubiquitous – and more. Not only does just about everybody seem to have one.

These days, some people have only a cell phone. In some cases, that just suits people’s perfectly legitimate, very mobile lifestyles.

In other cases, dropping their landline has liberated people, enabling them “to fly under the radar”, without listings of their phone or address in telephone directories.

This, in turn, has made it harder for custodial parents and support enforcement agencies to keep track of non-compliant, non-custodial parents who are legally obligated to pay child support.

The state of Maine is considering fighting back – with proposed legislation that would require cellular telephone companies to disclose billing addresses of account holders who owe child support.

Of course, the proposal has its dark side, which privacy advocates have been quick to point out.

You can read more about it in The Morning Sentinel and The Portland Press Herald.

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