Grandparents Arrested in Child Abduction Case

GeorgiaLeeLang057Chris Brann is a Houston, Texas doctor whose 9-year-old son, Nicolas, was abducted by his ex-wife, Marcelle Guimaraes, in 2013, on the pretence that she was simply attending a wedding in Brazil, her home country and the home of her parents.

She led Mr. Brann to believe that after the wedding celebrations she and Nicolas would return to Texas, where the parties shared joint custody of Nicholas, but that was a subterfuge. She had already prepared in advance to remain in Brazil; obtain a sole custody order; and with the help of her parents had arranged to pre-register Nicolas in a school in Brazil.

Mr. Brann filed an application for the return of Nicolas under the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, an international treaty to which most countries are signatories, as is Brazil. However, Brazil is also one of several countries who pay lip service to the treaty but frequently ignore the spirit of the law and through delay and other tactics fail to order the return of children.

The guiding principle of the treaty is that custody decisions should only be made in the country where the child is “habitually resident” in order to foil parents who abscond to another country and seek orders that would not otherwise be granted in their home country.

While father Brann has visited his son in Brazil numerous times, the justice system in Brazil has failed to respond in accordance with the treaty. However, the tide may now turn as Nicolas’ Brazilian grandparents, Carlos Otavio Guimaraes, 67, and Jemima Guimaraes, 65, were taken into custody this week when they arrived at the Miami International Airport. Their involvement in Nicolas’ removal from Texas has led to charges for international abduction and conspiracy to abduct. They face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Mr. Brann reportedly issued a statement remarking that he was “very sorry it has come to this” and hoped their arrest will convince them to persuade their daughter to return Nicolas to the United States in return for his plea for leniency for them.

Child abduction is one of the worst forms of child abuse and too often abducting parents are given a slap on the wrist, rather than the harsh punishment their conduct deserves.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Mother Jailed 8 Years for Child Abduction Now Released

B9316548187Z-1.1_20150314202542_000_GFTA6A1QO.1-0One of the most litigious child abduction cases may have finally come to a conclusion.

Victoria Innes was five-years-old when her mother, Marie Carrascosa kidnapped her, taking her from the United States to Spain, despite a court order that prohibited each of her battling parents from removing her from the United States without the consent of the other parent.

To buttress this order, and as a precaution, the Court also said that Victoria’s passport must be held by her mother’s lawyer and not released.

A series of unexpected events unfolded when Ms. Carrascosa changed lawyers. Her new lawyer, Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, was unaware of the court order regarding Victoria’s passport. She released the passport to her client whereupon Ms. Carrascosa fled with Victoria to Spain, where her parents lived and where she was qualified as a lawyer.

Distraught father, Peter Innes, took immediate legal action to have Victoria returned to the State of New Jersey, obtaining an American court order for custody, however, the Spanish courts ignored the order.

Later Ms. Carrascosa returned to New Jersey without Victoria to continue the legal battle, apparently confident that the Spanish courts had jurisdiction and taking comfort in an order of the Spanish court that  barred Victoria from leaving Spain until she was 18-years-old.

But the New Jersey courts didn’t see it that way. Ms. Carrascosa was tried and sentenced in New Jersey to fourteen years in prison for contempt of court and interfering with child custody.

In the meantime, Mr. Innes launched a lawsuit against attorney Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich who was ordered to pay compensation of $950,000 to him for her negligence in releasing the passport to Ms. Carrascosa.

Typically a term of imprisonment tends to  eventually persuade an individual to comply with the law, but not in Ms. Carrascosa’s case. In her zeal to ensure her ex-husband would have no contact with Victoria she remained in prison year after year, depriving her daughter, not only of a father, but a mother as well. Victoria was in the care of her maternal grandmother in Spain.

Ms. Carrascosa’s continued defiance of the court orders and her lengthy incarceration became a legal problem for the State court who expected compliance sooner rather than later. At a hearing in 2007 appellate Judge Donald G. Collester said “She cannot be held forever. At some point in time, she will be out of jail. What are you going to do then?”

In 2014 Ms. Carrascosa received parole for the child abduction conviction but was immediately transferred to local  Bergen County jail for refusing to return Victoria to New Jersey.

It was the entreaties of her daughter to court and correctional authorities and the consent of her former husband, Mr. Innes that resulted in her final release in 2015.

Mr. Innes said:

“I know Victoria wants her mother back, and for that reason only, I support her release. I am confident that once our daughter gets to know her mother, she’ll begin to see the reality of this sad situation. It’s been 10 long years since my daughter was taken, and there’s only one thing I am sure of — no one wins in cases like this.”

No person should suffer the torment of child abduction and Peter Innes’ consent to his ex-wife’s release is proof that he understands that it should be all about what is in his daughter’s best interests, a concept that has eluded the self-centred Ms. Carrascosa.

Mr. Innes maintains a website “victoriainnes.com” and has not given up hope that one day he and his daughter will be reconciled.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Grandparents Jailed for Assisting in Children’s Abduction

_DSC4179 - Version 2Poor grandma and grandpa…thrown in jail for their misguided efforts to assist their daughter to flee England with her two children after the Court ordered a change in custody to their father.

The children’s mother had custody of her son, age 7 and daughter, age 2 until a judge ordered the children to be transferred to their father’s custody, leaving mom with one hour a month of supervised access. The mother’s “issues”, what ever they be, were plainly reflected in the draconian limitation placed on her time with the children.

And then a plan was hatched: Mother’s parents drove her and the children to a secret rendezvous spot under cover of night where mother, children, and six suitcases were loaded into a chauffeur driven Mercedes for the journey to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris where they hopped on a flight to Costa Rica. They had escaped, or so they thought.

Police investigators naturally began their search for the missing children at their grandparents’ home. The grandparents advised the police that the children had spent the night at their home, but in the morning when they awoke the children and their mother were gone, leaving only a note.

However, their story quickly fell apart when police discovered a text message from granny to her daughter that showed her daughter’s location in the Channel Tunnel enroute to France.

More damning evidence emerged from roadside video that showed the Mercedes and other footage displayed the abducting mother’s vehicle being driven by grandfather back to his home.

Eventually the police learned that mother and children were in Costa Rica and not surprisingly, the children were already on the local constabulary’s radar as it had been reported that the children were wandering through their hotel without supervision, their mother’s whereabouts unknown.

The children’s father’s wife and a social worker arrived in Costa Rica to retrieve the children from an orphanage and return them to England, a task that took almost six weeks to obtain the proper paperwork from local authorities. All tolled, the children’s ordeal lasted two and a half months before they landed on British soil.

Grandma was jailed for 14 months, while her husband, who was less involved, was sentenced to 12 months in prison. Judge John Wait said to the elderly offenders:

“The consequences of this case have been quite awful. You were responsible for some of this but those acts were done out of love and emotion, not for money. You knowingly flouted a court order and told lies in the Royal Courts of Justice.”

Mother remains in Costa Rica but extradition proceedings are pending. You can be sure this mother will receive a lengthy jail sentence once she is back in the United Kingdom.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

First Cyberstalking, Then Murder, in Family Law Tragedy

DSC00507 (2)In a divorce tragedy akin to Shakespeare’s “MacBeth”, Delaware mother Christine Belford, age 39, was murdered by her father-in-law in February 2013 after years of litigation involving child abduction, allegations of mental illness, non-payment of child support, and the eventual termination of a parental relationship.

Earlier chapters of the divorce of Ms. Belford and her optometrist husband David Matusiewicz were distinguished by animosity and hatred engendered by a dispute over their children.

In 2006 a psychologist examined the parties and found each parent capable and fit. The Court acted on that information and granted joint custody to the parties with Mr. Matusiewicz to have primary residence and Ms. Belford to see the children every weekend and mid-week.

But that order did not suit the children’s father who believed his wife was a an unfit, neglectful mother.

Selling his practice, Mr. Matusiewicz abducted their three children in 2006, spiriting them off to Central America in a Winnebago, with the assistance of his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz. Eighteen months later the children were found in Nicaragua and both David and his mother were sentenced to prison, three years and eighteen months respectively.

Now that the children resided with their mother, the Matusiewciz family made Ms. Belmont’s life a living hell for seven years, with repeated calls to child protection services, abusive allegations, multiple trips to court, and the ever present overtures to psychologists willing to advocate for them.

Their email and internet campaign saw David Matusiewicz, his parents and his sister spy, torment, and stalk his ex-wife, and repeatedly and falsely accuse Ms. Belford in emails, letters, phone calls and Internet postings of sexually abusing and neglecting the couple’s daughters.

By June 2012 Christine Belford wrote a letter to her ex-husband and his family barring all further contact with the children. She wrote:

“Your past behaviors have scarred the children enough,” she wrote. “There is no need to inflict additional harm.”

She also communicated her fear to her lawyer, Timothy Hitchings, writing:

“[David Matusiewicz] may allow me to survive to suffer, I may survive long enough to watch the girls be harmed. I may even go missing. All of this could be possibilities.”

Further emails between this frightened mother and her lawyer indicated she had taken out life insurance on two of her daughters, wrote a will, and was saving money to purchase a gun.

During her last days, she prepared for another child support hearing, arriving at the courthouse with her friend, Laura Mulford, when suddenly her 68-year old father-in-law, a Navy veteran and former police officer, drew his gun and shot Christine Belford and her friend Laura. In a hail of bullets he exchanged gunfire with the police before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. He had earlier told friends that he had a brain tumour and didn’t care whether he lived or died, although medical reports indicated the tumour was benign.

But if Thomas Matusiewicz thought his death by suicide would spare his co- conspirators he was dead wrong. In the first case in the United States, David Matusiewicz, his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz, and his sister, Amy Gonzales were charged and convicted by a jury of cyberstalking leading to death, with a possible sentence of life in prison.

While the Matusiewicz defendants denied knowledge of their father’s plans to kill Ms. Belford, the Prosecutors successfully argued that the defendants did not have to know that Tom Matusiewicz planned to kill her in order to be found guilty, but only that her death was “reasonably foreseeable” or a “natural consequence” of their actions.

They remain in custody and will be sentenced in October 2015. It is expected they will appeal their convictions.

The saddest part of this tragedy is that three lovely children no longer have a mother, a father, or paternal relatives to help them along in life, all because of hatred and misplaced obsession.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Child Custody Dispute and Abduction Precursor to Murder of Father and His Family

DSC00275_1A Mississauga family: father, mother and adult son, were systematically eliminated in what police say may be revenge and payback arising from a high conflict custody case, resulting in this week’s arrest of 34-year-old Melissa Merritt and her common-law spouse, Christopher Fattore, age 37.

This bizarre case is the ultimate tale of “truth being stranger than fiction”, but it began so happily when Melissa Merritt and Caleb Harrison met and began living together in 2000.

Two children followed in quick succession and they married in 2003. However, domestic violence marred their union and the couple split in 2005 after Caleb was convicted of assaulting Melissa.

A month after their separation Caleb drove drunk, killing a taxi driver and injuring four teenagers. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and his mother, Bridget Harrison, took over the care of the children.

From there the battle lines were drawn… but the tragedies did not subside. In 2009 Melissa’s father-in-law, Bill Harrison, suddenly died at the home he shared with Bridget, his death attributed to a heart attack.

A month later Melissa abducted her two children, remaining at large for several months. Upon her return, she was convicted of criminal child abduction but served no jail time. Her access to the children, however, was now limited to every second week-end and specified holidays.

Almost a year after Bill Harrison’s death, one of the grandchildren found Grandma Bridget dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home. Suspicions were heightened with the second Harrison death in twelve months.

In the meantime, a fire destroyed the home Melissa shared with her common law spouse and their four children. The couple lost everything, but the custody battle still raged, and in 2013 Melissa filed a court application for joint custody.

A month later Caleb Harrison was also dead, and police began an investigation into the deaths of three family members in five years.

In January 2014 Melissa Merritt and her spouse, Chris Fattore, were charged with first degree murder in the deaths of her ex-husband, Caleb Harrison, and his mother, Bridget Harrison.

This week Melissa and Christopher were also charged with the murder of Bill Harrison and extradited from Nova Scotia to Brampton Ontario where they remain in custody.

All six of their children are now in care. It is unfathomable that one woman could destroy so many people’s lives…of course, she is innocent until proven guilty.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

And Now the End is Near- 2014 Highlights

BarristerFor me, 2014 was fulfilling, both personally and professionally. On the work side, I arbitrated some interesting family law cases, handled several Hague Convention child abduction cases: one that saw the successful reunion of father and child after an abduction from Portugal to Canada, and the other an appeal from an order that a child be returned to Montana.

Personally, I found time to workout with my incredible trainer, Janice; enjoy neighbourhood cook-outs and pool parties; sing in my choir; brainstorm ideas for a book on women in leadership, and enjoy the beauty of California and B.C’s Okanagan.

Meanwhile my contribution to the blogosphere continued throughout the year, with the following highlights:

1. Shared parenting: MP Maurice Vellacott’s bill on shared parenting crashed and burned when the Liberals and most of the Conservatives voted against it in the earliest stages of second reading.

Despite it being a part of Harper’s election platform, only a few brave backbenchers supported the bill. In retrospect it is likely that the focus on a strict equality of parenting time, instead of an emphasis on shared parenting that could see one parent with less than 50% depending on the work and school schedules of parents and child(ren), led to its early demise.

2. New Prostitution Law: On December 6, 2014 the Conservative government brought into effect their new law, based on the Nordic model adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland and other European countries.

After the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s previous law in 2013, which did not criminalize prostitution, but made it illegal to solicit for prostitution, operate a common bawdy house, or live off the avails of prostitution, Justice Minister McKay’s new bill was reviled in many quarters.

The new law criminalizes prostitution for the purchaser of sexual services, while women, girls, and boys who sell sex are no longer subject to legal sanctions. They are treated as exploited victims, with the goal of helping them escape the sordid life of prostitution with its inherent danger.

3. Conscious Uncoupling: Amid mockery and snide remarks, Gwyneth Paltrow introduced “conscious uncoupling” to the world of divorce, as a softer and gentler way to separate and divorce. The details of this model remain elusive but months after its debut, it has found little favour in the real world.

4. Trinity Law School: Conflict and consternation abound when Trinity Western University’s governmental approval to open a Christian law school was announced. British Columbia lawyers railed against the governors/benchers of the Law Society who voted 21 to 6 to permit Trinity law graduates to article in B.C.

The majority of B.C. lawyers who voted at a special meeting, denounced the governors’ decision to permit Trinity students to article in B.C., alleging that Trinity’s community covenant that only permits sexual relations between married, opposite sex couples amounted to sexual discrimination and a breach of human rights.

The Law Society eventually capitulated and adopted the views of Trinity’s critics. The matter is now before the Court in B.C. and in other courts across Canada where the same position prevailed.

5. Madam Justice Lori Douglas: After several years of missteps, rancour, judicial resignations, and the interference of the Federal Court, Judge Douglas finally put an end to the Canadian Judicial Council’s inquiry into the collection of nude photographs of her placed on the internet by her husband, the late Jack King, a well-regarded family law lawyer in Winnipeg, by announcing her resignation from the bench.

The entire exercise highlighted the flaws of Canada’s system of judicial discipline and Judge Douglas’ resignation was welcome relief from the embarrassing sideshow the inquiry had become.

Here’s looking to 2015 with great anticipation for a new year full of juridical intrigue, legal entanglements, and matrimonial mishaps.

Happy New Year!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Happy Ending for Local Child Abduction Case

DSC00275_1Not all abduction cases end in the disappointment of “no return” or even death, like little Amber Lucius. Early last month I became involved in a child abduction case that spanned the globe from Portugal to Vancouver to Corner Brook Newfoundland.

The parents of a nine-year-old girl named Lauren moved from their long-time home of Vancouver to Portugal three years ago. They settled in and Lauren’s mom who was a Canadian citizen applied for and was granted Portuguese citizenship as did Lauren, who was born in Canada. Their new life began, Lauren was registered in school and by all accounts, her parents enjoyed their new home, particularly Lauren’s father who was a dual citizen and had family and business interests in Portugal.

Unfortunately, the marriage began to falter but the parties remained together in the family home. Lauren’s father became concerned that his wife would leave Portugal with Lauren. He was so concerned that he obtained a “travel ban” which is a non-judicial warning to immigration that a child cannot be removed from the country without a court order or the consent of both parents. Lauren’s mom knew that her spouse would never agree, so she planned a clandestine middle-of-the-night departure, circumventing Portuguese authorities by driving to Seville Spain and catching a plane to Newfoundland where the parties had a summer cottage and where her family resided.

Lauren’s mom knew that her midnight dash was contrary to the law, having received advice from several lawyers and other officials, but she ignored them all. Lauren’s father immediately left Portugal and arrived in Vancouver, ready to do whatever was required to bring his daughter back to Portugal for the start of school on September 11. In the meantime, Lauren’s mother had already obtained an ex parte order from a Newfoundland court giving her interim custody of Lauren. My quarrel with ex parte orders is well-know to regular readers of Lawdiva. They are a blatant breach of due process and ought not to be granted unless there is clear evidence of impending danger to the leaving parent or the child.

We rapidly prepared an application pursuant to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, an intricate process that entails the compilation of many relevant documents. Of course, all of the documents required translation as they were in Portugese. Back in Portugal a criminal action was commenced since child abduction is a criminal offence. The next step was to locate a lawyer in Newfoundland who was able, on short notice, to get into court there to argue for the return of Lauren. An experienced QC jumped on board to secure Lauren’s return.

An interesting part of this case was that Lauren’s father and mother shared a computer which gave Lauren’s father access to all his wife’s emails, many of which were extremely damaging to her case. After obtaining advice from a lawyer specializing in privacy law, the decision was made to include the emails in the Hague application. Lauren’s return was paramount and any evidence that assisted had to be utilized.

A Newfoundland judge presided over a four-day hearing last week that focused exclusively on the question of which court had jurisdiction to deal with custody of Lauren: Portugal or Newfoundland? The law is very clear that the court where the child “habitually resides” has sole jurisdiction to make custody decisions. Naturally, Lauren’s mother attempted to argue that Newfoundland was Lauren’s habitual residence, a position that was doomed to fail, given the extensive evidence of Lauren’s life in Portugal.

Thankfully, the Newfoundland court found that Portugal was the jurisdiction to determine Lauren’s custody and an order was made that her father return with her to Portugal immediately, just in time for the first day of school.

If Lauren’s mother is determined to bring Lauren to Canada, she must now convince a Portuguese judge that her position is in Lauren’s best interests. The battle is won, but the war is not over.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang