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International Family Law: Saving Lives and Making Law

Sometimes in family law we get to save children. Sometimes in family law we get to make law. Sometimes in International Family Law we get to do both. This is one of those times.

Our client's child was born with End Stage Renal Disease. She was on dialysis from day five. By the time she turned six months old, she was only in the 2nd percentile in length and 1st percentile in growth. She desperately needed a kidney transplant.

The problem was, among other things, in Turkey, where this child was born, the youngest child that had ever received a kidney transplant was three years old.

There were other problems, too. One of which was Dad (the other party) was not at all inclined to live in Istanbul, the largest city with the best hospital in Turkey. He preferred to live on a remote island an hour off of its coast. He preferred a place where electricity was occassional and running water meant the gurgling creek out the front door.

Mom (our client) though born and raised in Turkey to missionary parents, left Turkey (and Dad) and brought the child to her parent's home in the U.S. in the hope that the child could thrive and receive her kidney transplant in the most professional environment possible.

Dad, left behind in Turkey, filed suit in Iowa Federal Court under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. He contended that the child had been abducted and the child should therefore be returned to Turkey. We contended that it would be a grave risk to return the child to Turkey because she needs her transplant and taking her away from her treatment regime would risk her life. This argument had not been made under the Hague Abduction Convention before.

In a case of first impression, the Federal Court agreed with us and made new law on what constitutes a grave risk of harm. This was not a situation where the dad had beaten or sexually molested the child. Up until now, that was what grave risk had meant. From our perception, this was a different meaning of grave risk, but well within the logic of the Hague Abduction Convention. When the Federal Court agreed with us, it made law, it defined the Convention in a way that subsequent courts will follow. We saved this child's life. We likely saved others whose cases will now follow. In his 43 page opinion, the Judge agreed with us on many other subjects and made law in other areas as well that will prove vital to protecting children in future Hague Abduction Convention cases.

Now, thanks to our Judge's decision, our child who has risen to 60th percentile in length and 50th percentile in weight under U.S. medical care and is scheduled for her kidney transplant very, very soon. Mom is the donor. Now, thanks to our Judge's decision, our child has a promising and protracted future. Now, thanks to our Judge's decision, children who suffer a grave risk of harm for medical reasons, have an argument available to them that may prevent their return to their former country.

Family law cases can be gut wrenching. International Hague Abduction Convention cases can tear your heart out. It is so satisfying and gratifying to have the opportunity to save children and make new law that will continue to save children well into the future.

The Manely Firm is so fortunate to be one of only two firms in the United States who practice Hague Abduction Convention law on a full time basis. We are so fortunate to be perfectly positioned to fight these critical battles every day. We are so fortunate to practice on the cutting edge of developing international family law.

It's heart wrenching work. But we wouldn't have it any other way.

Michael Manely

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