In some ways, I have the sweetest job in the world. I get to help children get back home when they’ve been taken away from there and I get to help keep children here in the U.S. when they shouldn’t be sent away to some foreign country. This is kind of a summary of what the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction is all about and it is a large part of what I get to do every day.
In some cases, a parent takes a child from the child’s home in the U.S. (the taking parent) and the child’s other parent (the left behind parent) and removes the child to some other country. Often the child is completely uprooted and snatched away from everything they have known, not only the left behind parent but everything else that comprises their lives, their extended family, their friends, their school, even literally their very environment.
In other cases, a parent from some other country (the left behind parent) contends that the child has been snatched from the other country by a parent to the United States (the taking parent). The same issues apply whether the child is snatched from or to the United States. Wrongful removal is wrongful removal regardless of the country to which the child was removed.
In still other cases, the left behind parent claims that the child has been abducted but that claim is incorrect or perhaps there is a very specific defense to the child’s return such as a grave risk of harm that would come to the child if they were returned to the country of the left behind parent.
The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction is the treaty to which over 90 countries adhere on these issues. The treaty is broken down into multiple articles and commentaries and each country has a body of law developed in implementing the provisions of Hague Convention treaty.
For the countries that have not signed on to the Hague Convention, there is no international obligation to return children but there are significant front and back door options through diplomatic channels and other not so public channels that can produce favorable results.
As you can imagine, these international child abduction cases make for a whole smorgasbord of legal and factual issues and are deeply intertwined with the law and culture of other countries and customs. For us at the Firm this means a constant obligation and opportunity to stay abreast of the laws and norms of foreign countries. We necessarily have developed a long and deep history of working with and in other nations, developing our experience of the way the water runs in other countries. Only with this knowledge, this experience, does one have a prayer of successfully negotiating the land mines and briar patches of working with the laws, people and norms of other countries. “When in Rome,” as they say. Well, you darn well better know what Romans do if you want to get your child out of Rome.
We conduct our work in and around Atlanta and Savannah, yes, but also all around the United States and even all around the world. Not only do we work with local counsel from many and quite varied jurisdictions, we often manage litigation around the world. Not infrequently we are also called upon to physically work within the other countries to achieve our clients’ objectives.
This work is certainly not for the faint of heart nor for the novice nor recent initiate. It is sexy but it is complex. One misstep and the keys to the kingdom, once tantalizingly dangled before you, can get whisked away, never to be in view again. You don’t want your legal team learning the Hague Convention, international law, diplomacy and foreign customs as they go when your child is at risk.
Just in the past several months, our Firm has helped get children back home to England and Costa Rica and brought them back to the U.S. from St. Marteen and Pakistan. We’ve also recently kept children in the United States who were threatened in litigation to be sent to Venezuela and Turkey. Like I said, it’s what we do every day.
I do have the sweetest job in the world. At the end of the case, when the child is returned to their rightful home or when the threat of removing them has lifted, to spend time with the child after the shadow of their torment has lifted, to see their beaming faces finally relaxed because they are home and home is safe, is more reward than I can tell you.