Parental Child Abduction Escalates World-Wide

GAL & PAL #2jpgIn the last decade, courts around the world have seen a proliferation of parental child abduction cases. Perhaps this can be accounted for by our increasingly global community, or is it a sign that families are increasingly disintegrating and some parents are willing to take draconian steps to ensure they get what they want… in abduction cases, it is the children, of course.

Today a case will be heard by the British Supreme Court involving an arranged marriage, four children, and a battle between a mother in England and her husband in Pakistan.

It began when a young woman entered into an arranged marriage with her cousin and moved to the United Kingdom. The couple had three children, all born in England.

Unfortunately, the marriage began to crack and eventually the father left his wife and children in England and returned on his own to Pakistan.

Some time later, mother and the children arrived in Pakistan for a vacation, but upon her arrival, her extended family began to pressure her to reconcile with her husband. She agree to do so on the basis that her husband return to England to resume their marriage.

It appears she fell into her husband’s trap, because before she knew it, the children were enrolled in school in Pakistan and her husband had hidden their passports. During this time she gave birth to a fourth child.

She finally escaped the clutches of her husband and his family and returned to England, but without her children. She applied in a British court for without notice court orders that the children be returned to England, orders that were later affirmed when challenged by her spouse.

However, her husband appealed the orders to the Court of Appeal. The court upheld the order that her three eldest children be returned to the U.K. but were split on whether the youngest child, born in Pakistan, should be returned as well.

Lord Justice Patten opined that a child born in Pakistan could not be said to be a habitual resident of England and therefore he could not make an order that included the youngest child.

Lord Justice Thorpe disagreed stating that the child took his mother’s habitual residence at birth as “the defeat of abduction must be supported” and that this case fell “narrowly on the right side of an important boundary.”

Britain’s highest court must now decide whether an infant is presumed to acquire the habitual residence of his or her custodial parent, despite being born in a foreign jurisdiction.

Yet, this may not be the end of the case, for a court order to some parents is just a piece of paper they are quite willing to defy.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Amber Alert No Hindrance to Child Abductor Crossing the Border

DSC00507 (2)A recent child abduction by a father in Colorado, who fled with his three-year-old son to Manitoba, reminded me of the angst and heartbreak these cases bring with them.

Monte Turner, of Colorado, was barred by court order from contacting his former wife and their son Luke Turner. However, as is common in abduction cases, a court order did not get in the away of Mr. Turner last month when he arrived at his former wife’s home while Luke was playing in the backyard.

Turner overpowered Brandy Turner with pepper spray and an electrical stun gun, grabbed his son, and fled on a bicycle. His escape route was planned with the assistance of Luke’s grandfather, who is also under investigation.

An Amber Alert was issued throughout Colorado and the surrounding states, but no one thought to alert the Canadian border crossings because Colorado did not share a border with Canada.

It appears that Luke’s mother was unaware that her son had a passport, thus making it so much easier to be spirited out of the United States. Fifteen hundred kilometers later, Mr. Turner with Luke, checked into a motel in Brandon, Manitoba.

Fortunately, Mr. Turner made a simple mistake by using his credit card to pay for the motel room and within minutes, the motel owner was shocked as lights and sirens converged on his motel, where Turner was arrested.

This story, unlike many others, has a good ending as Luke was returned to his mother shortly thereafter, while Turner remains in jail in Manitoba awaiting deportation to face charges of kidnapping, burglary and menacing.

So, are there steps parents can take to foil the chances of a successful abduction? Of course there are.

In cases like these, the custodial parent is usually well aware that abduction is a possibility. In the Turner case, Monte Turner had taken his son the year before when there was no custody order in favour of his wife, to stand in his way.

Counsel for Brandy Turner ought to have ensured that a copy of the court order awarding her custody and preventing her ex-husband from contacting her or Luke, together with notice of the Amber Alert, was sent to as many border crossings as possible.

One can never be too careful and the fact that Luke had his own passport, albeit without Ms. Turner’s consent, is a reminder that it is prudent in high-risk cases for a parent to contact the Passport Office to determine if a fraudulent application has been made by another person.

Nonetheless, where a parent is determined to commit the ultimate crime they will take whatever steps are necessary, including forging consent letters and travel authorizations so that border authorities have no reason to suspect foul play.

What is really needed in Canada are judges who will mete out appropriate punishment for abducting parents as a general deterrence to others and specific deterrence to the abductor. A slap on the wrist, community service, or a probation order does not cut it. Parents who steal children commit the worst form of child abuse and deserve lengthy prison terms.

I suspect that Colorado will not be shy to ensure that Turner pays for his crimes, as he awaits trial with a $500,000 bail requirement.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Scourge of Family Law: Parental Child Abduction

In custody disputes there are several “game changers”, including parental alienation, false allegations of child abuse and parental child abduction. Each of these ploys will turn run-of-the-mill custody litigation into extreme custody wars. Yet the most destructive of the three is the abduction of a child by a parent.

While the latest statistics say that parental abduction has decreased in Canada, other countries are experiencing a surge in the number of cases where young children are spirited away in the wake of divorce or separation.

This summer I handled three parental abduction cases, each time acting for the “left behind” parent. These cases involved six children: one 13-year old girl, taken by her mother to Florida from British Columbia; three-year-old twins accompanied their mother for a vacation in New York and failed to return to their Vancouver home; and three children holidaying outside of their home country of Mexico at summer camps in Toronto and India, were intercepted by their father and taken to Vancouver.

What surprises me about these cases is that the abducting parents actually believed they could employ this “self-help” method of obtaining custody of their children. Each found out they were wrong.

Parental abduction is the most insidious form of child abuse and while abducting parents often justify their behavior by alleging abuse by the left-behind parent, they cannot escape the criminal and civil recriminations of their conduct.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction is the international treaty that assists parents and governments to seek the return of children who have been wrongfully removed from their home country or state. So far, 86 countries and states have signed on to the Convention with Russia signing on in 2011.

The principles of the Convention provide that parents cannot unilaterally remove children from their home jurisdiction where such removal will impede the parenting, custody or access of the other parent. The Convention applies even where there is not a custody or access order and applies both to married and unmarried parents.

Most often when a parent abducts a child, the parent and child go “underground” making it difficult for the authorities to find the child. The protocol for the left-behind parent is to complete a Hague Abduction application which is delivered to the Hague Authority in the home jurisdiction, who then contact the Hague authority in the country or state where the child may be residing with the abducting parent.

Where there is personal contact between the parents, the first step is to request the voluntary return of the child. Alas, parents who clandestinely take their children away, rarely wish to return without some incentive. In most cases,the left-behind parent applies to the court in the home jurisdiction for an order that the child be returned.

The incentive for return is that in the absence of compliance with the return order, the abducting parent stands a good chance of losing custody of their child once the child is located, and even where a parent returns home with a child, may still suffer the consequences including restricted contact with their child, usually supervised access.

Parental child abduction is also a criminal offence in Canada, however, frequently the police leave the matter to the civil courts. In the case of the child abducted to Florida, when the child’s father contacted the RCMP, they completely ignored him, despite their mandate under the Criminal Code of Canada.

However, there are cases where the abducting parent is dealt with criminally as well as civilly. In two previous cases I handled, a mother that fled to Quebec with her infant daughter was arrested and convicted of child abduction. The family court restricted her contact to supervised access for almost one year and the criminal court placed her on two-years probation. Similarly, a mother who hid her children in France for many years was finally arrested and imprisoned in Vancouver, even though she was pregnant. It is unlikely she will ever have normal custodial/access time with her children.

In each of my three recent cases the endings were bitter-sweet. In all cases the children were returned, but returning home merely signals the beginning of long, ugly, expensive, custody/access battles where neither parent wins, and the children lose.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang