Abducted Child Returns Home After 18 Years

GEO#1Last month a 23-year-old man walked up to a counter in the United States Embassy in Guadalajara, Mexico with his US passport and social insurance card.

His name was Nathan Slinkard and he told the Embassy clerk that he hadn’t seen his father in 18 years and wanted to go home.

In 1995 Nathan’s mother, Trena Slinkard, lost custody of him and his siblings, Sydney, age 3 and Andrew, age 7, after an Indiana judge made a custody order in favour of their father, Steven.

Trena Slinkard, in an utterly selfish move, ran with her children, ending up in Mexico, effectively severing any bond or relationship between the children and their father, who was deemed by the court to be the most appropriate custodial parent.

Steven Slinkard did what all left-behind parents do. He searched endlessly for his  children, using every resource available, but to no avail.

Despite the pain and trauma of his situation, Mr. Slinkard made the best life he could. He worked as a paramedic in Indianapolis and later became a deputy county coroner, working in the same building as the sheriff’s office, the very office that received the news and advised Steven that his son wanted to be with him.

Nathan was flown from Mexico to the Houston, Texas office of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, and the following day was reunited with his dad in an emotional reconciliation.

Nathan, fluent in Spanish and English, had retained his American accent and told his father he wanted to go to university to study medicine.

Still protective of his mother, Nathan has thus far chosen not to discuss her or his siblings and their whereabouts with his father, probably because she is still facing felony abduction charges in the United States.

A happy ending, a rarity in abduction cases and still, in my view, the most destructive form of child abuse.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why Do Parents Sometimes Act Like Children?

BarristerIn most major newspapers you can read a section called “Celebrating” where you will find the usual assortment of happy events: birth announcements, wedding anniversaries and high school graduation congratulations. Colour photos of happy, smiling faces abound.

But in the Vancouver Sun newspaper one morning, there was one Happy Birthday greeting that unsettled me. The contributor of the greeting wished his 8 year-old son a happy day, and reminded him that: “There’s not a day in the last five years that I have not thought about you…hopefully one day you will be in my life.. there’s so much you and I have missed…maybe next year you will be in my life.”

So, what’s the story here? From where I sit as a family law lawyer, a happy ending is probably unlikely. A number of scenarios come to mind.

Was the boy been abducted by his mother? Is this a case of parental alienation? Maybe the Courts have found this father unfit to parent? Or perhaps he is a victim of false molestation allegations? Is this young boy just a pawn in a dirty divorce?

Each of the scenarios described form a part of the work day of family law lawyers who take cases that no other lawyer wants to handle.

Reading between the lines, the parental pain is apparent and yet, the real victim is this young boy. The psychological literature tells us that kids raised with one parent missing from their lives will experience social, behavioral and psychological problems that children with two engaged parents may not.

Two questions arise: Why would a parent intentionally harm a child in this way? Why would a parent act like an angry child?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

4 of the Sleaziest Child Abduction Tactics

Make no mistake about it. Parents who kidnap their children are self-centred, controlling, and high-handed. The very act of surreptitiously spiriting a child away from his or her home and primary parent requires a callous indifference to principles of common decency, a lack of respect for authority, and an ignorance of or a blatant disregard for the harm a child suffers.

An international treaty called the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction exists to assist parents to locate children who have been kidnapped by their other parent. However, for the Convention to work, the country from where the child has been abducted and the country where the child has been taken, must both be signatories to the Convention.

Eighty-six countries have signed the Convention, although some governments give only lip service to the enforcement powers of this law. Where the Convention does not apply, the journey to affect a child’s return is much more onerous.

As a lawyer who frequently represents the “left-behind” parent, the tricks and tactics employed by parent abductors are best described as “sleazy”. Consider these four scenarios drawn from recent court cases in Vancouver, British Columbia:

1. You Can Trust Me, Honest

In this case the child’s mother feared that her estranged husband would abduct their young son, but had no concrete proof, just her well-honed mother’s intuition. The child’s father picked up his son to take him to the zoo for an outing. When he arrived to pick up his son, he assuaged his wife’s concerns by making a show of cutting up his son’s passport in front of her to convince her he would never remove his son from their country of residence and now, he had no passport for the child to travel internationally.

Of course, it was all a ruse. Instead of going to the zoo, the father took his son to the airport and flew to Canada. The passport he had destroyed was the child’s expired passport. He used the child’s new passport to board the plane.

2. I Have a Travel Authorization

In these post-9/11 days, it is impossible to travel internationally without a passport and for a person travelling alone with a child it is de rigueur to also have a travel authorization signed by the child’s other parent.

The authorization typically indicates who the child is, who the parents are, where the child will be travelling, and when the child is expected to be returned to his home country or state.

In the underground world of child abduction forged travel authorizations are the rule, not the exception.

In a recent case, a mother who fled with her daughter from Japan to Canada used a legitimate travel authorization she had retained from an earlier trip, played around with white-out, added a paragraph that said she had permission from her estranged spouse to enroll the child in school in Canada and did just that.

The young girl’s father hired a lawyer in Vancouver to go to Court to obtain an order that the child be returned to Japan. The child’s mother waved her travel authorization in front of the judge and argued she had her husband’s consent.

The only problem was that the authorization had obviously been tampered with and the mother signed her husband’s name on the authorization in Japanese characters, rather than in English, which was how he usually signed his name.

3. Catch Me if You Can

In a case from Tennessee, a 12-year-old girl who was in her father’s custody was kidnapped by her mother. The child’s father was a state police officer and had country-wide connections as a member of the “thin-blue-line”.

Luckier than most left-behind parents, the father obtained intelligence that his daughter and ex-wife were travelling across North America, staying in “safe houses” known only to women who go underground with their children.

After many months of searching for his daughter, this father received information that mother and daughter were in Vancouver and would be attending at Immigration Canada offices in Vancouver to advance their claims for refugee status. The information even included the date and time of the refugee hearing.

The father had a custody order from Tennessee that was used to obtain a custody order in favour of the father in Vancouver and an order the child’s mother be arrested and the child taken to the Ministry of Family and Children, until she was returned to her home.

At the appointed time, I showed up at the refugee office with three strapping Vancouver Police officers in tow. Mom was arrested but bailed out and her daughter was picked up by her paternal grandfather.

The flight to Tennessee was delayed, however, when someone called in a bomb threat related to the girl’s flight. That was mother’s last trick.

Did this case have a happy ending? Unfortunately not, because the young girl, now 14-years-old, stayed in Tennessee for about two months and then disappeared.

4. Talk to Me

In another case, a young boy was abducted from Mexico and ended up in Vancouver. The left-behind parent once again hired a Vancouver lawyer to seek the return of her son. Pending a court hearing to deal with the matter, the child’s mother obtained a court order allowing her to telephone her son each evening to speak with him.

The boy’s father was incensed and made the nightly telephone calls very difficult for his wife. When he saw that he was losing ground and his case looked dismal, he pulled a fast one. He fled Vancouver to parts unknown but to fool his son’s mother, he recorded his son’s voice on an answering machine so that when his mother called she would be lulled into thinking he was still in Vancouver.

These scenarios are but a smattering of the lengths some parents will go to avoid justice. It’s not that these parents don’t understand the collateral damage to their children, they simply don’t care. Life is all about their needs.

Parental child abduction is the worst kind of child abuse and parents who run with their children should be subject to criminal charges and imprisonment.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Another Child Abducted

It is becoming apparent to me that a significant part of my law practice revolves around abducted children. I spent this morning in the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver with the single goal of having a six-year-old boy returned to this mother in Tokyo, Japan.

In this case the father was very tricky, lulling mom to think he would not abscond with their son, but he did.

Mom and dad married and lived in Japan for six years. They had a son born in Japan. Towards the end of 2010, the couple separated and mom and dad signed a divorce agreement which provided that their young son would live with his mother in Japan.

As Christmas was beckoning, mom agreed that her husband would travel to British Columbia to spend the holidays with his mother, the child’s paternal grandmother, taking their young boy with him. Mom signed a travel authorization permitting father to take their son to Vancouver with a return ticket and a return date of January 5, 2011.

All went well and the young boy and his father returned to Japan on January 5. Unbeknownst to the mother, the father had filed documents with the Tokyo Court disavowing his consent to the divorce agreement.

Meanwhile, the father carried on as if everything was settled. Because his wife was concerned he might leave Japan again with the child, the father made a show of cutting up the boy’s Canadian and Japanese passports in front of his wife. Later the mother learned that her husband had cut up two expired passports.

The next day father and son were going on an outing to the Tokyo zoo but this was a ruse, as the father took his son straight to the airport and flew to Vancouver with the child’s new passport.

As well, for the Christmas travel, the mother had signed a travel authorization. The father copied the Christmas travel authorization and used it to forge a new authorization that permitted travel to Vancouver and also said that the child would attend school in Vancouver.

The mother went to the Tokyo police and to her Japanese lawyer but they could not help her. In March 2011 she filed a Claim in the British Columbia Supreme Court for orders that her son be returned.

The father hired three different lawyers, each replacing the other and embarked on typical delay tactics. The Court hearing for the return of the child was scheduled in May, August and October 2011 and on each occasion the father sought and obtained an adjournment.

Finally, the matter was heard today and surprise!–neither the father or his lawyer showed up in Court.

The judge heard the evidence and ordered that the child be returned to Japan immediately; that the Court in BC declined to hear the custody matter; and that the matter would be sent back to Japan where the child’s habitual residence had been before his father kidnapped him.

As well, the Court ordered that the police assist to locate and apprehend the child for his return to Japan. It sounds like a wonderful ending, except that we have every reason to believe that the father, in breach of an earlier order that the child remain in BC until the Court hears the case, will not be easily found.

Yes, eleven months after the abduction, the mother finally has the orders she needs. Now all she needs to do his find her son.

Child abduction is the worst form of child abuse and hopefully when the child is located, the police will charge the father with criminal parental abduction under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Regrettably, the punishment for parental kidnapping is almost no punishment at all.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang