Left behind parents are desperate to find their missing children and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on location efforts. Despite the benefits of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction and the parental protections it offers in countries that are signatories to the treaty, the Hague law cannot be invoked if a child cannot be located or will not be returned by a country who ignores the law.
Recently, parents whose children have been abducted are attempting to seek compensation from airline companies who transport children from their home state to a foreign country, without requiring proof from the travelling parent that the child’s other parent has consented to the child’s removal from his or her home country.
Success in these cases has been mixed. Lawyer Barry Pollock successfully sued an American charter airline who accepted payment of $160,000.00 to transport a father and his three children to Egypt and then to Cuba. In 2005 a Connecticut jury awarded $27 million to the children’s mother on the basis the airline negligently failed to provide adequate safeguards against child abduction. The children were rescued in Cuba and returned to their American mother.
In October 2010 father Patrick Braden sued All Nippon Airways after his Japanese wife Ryoko Uchiyama fled California for Japan after her court action to obtain permission to move with her daughter Melissa to Japan was denied by the presiding judge. Ms. Uchiyama was ordered to relinquish Melissa’s passport to her father’s lawyer, but instead she beat a hasty retreat to the Los Angeles airport and left the country.
Mr. Braden argued the airline had an obligation to ask his wife to produce a notarized letter of authorization permitting Melissa to leave the country with her mother or alternatively, provide proof she had sole custody of her daughter.
Melissa’s father lost his lawsuit.The Court relied on the 1998 decision of Pittman v. Grayson, involving a child abducted from the United States to Iceland, where it was held that an airline had no duty of care to a parent in the absence of a special relationship between the airline and the parent.
Mr. Braden will probably never see the return of his daughter given Japan’s reputation as a country who will not sign the Hague Convention or return children to their home countries under any circumstances.
Other parents are taking even more desperate action such as Christopher Savoie who is suing his former lawyer, Virginia Lee Story and Tennessee Judge James G. Martin. Judge Martin mediated a parenting plan for Mr. Savoie and his wife Noriko Savoie and later made an order permitting Ms. Savoie to travel to Japan for a week for a vacation with the children, which overturned a previous judge’s order. Mr. Savoie travelled to Japan to bring the children home, but ended up in a Japanese jail for 18 days before he was released to return to America without his children.
Mr. Savoie alleges that Judge Martin should never have been both mediator and judge in the same case and his lawyer, Ms. Story, was negligent in failing to object to the Judge’s dual role.
Lawsuits to extract financial compensation are perhaps the only way parents fighting to have their children returned can afford to continue their efforts. Along the way, unwitting participants in parental child abduction may become educated and sensitized to these tragedies.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang