Imagine finding out that you have been sued in Federal Court. Imagine that the case involves the most important thing in the whole world to you, perhaps even more important than your own life. Now imagine that, at the same time that you find out that there is a case at all, you also learned that your final trial is only one week away. Welcome to our world.
We prosecute and defend Hague Convention Child Abduction cases. You know, that’s where one parent abducts their children from where they were living and brings them to where that parent wants them to be. You might be surprised, but parents are abducting their children all over the world, all the time. Some parents bring their children home to the United States. Some parents take them home to somewhere else (everywhere else) in the world. Where ever they are from, that’s where they will go. When that happens, we get the call.
The Hague Convention requires that member nations conclude litigation in these cases within six weeks of their inception. That is a very fast turn around time for any case. That is a lightning speed turn around for a Federal case. Recently, that lightning quick turn around for a Federal case went into hyper-drive. Federal courts are now expediting these cases even more. We’ve just had back to back trials involving Japan and Mexico where the cases had been pending less than two weeks and where the date that the defendant learned about the case to the date of trial was less than one week. Less than one week to prepare for a Federal trial on international issues. That is a recipe for a whirlwind of hurt.
Shifting from six weeks to conclude the case to one week doesn’t cause the gravity of these cases to be any less significant. It still involves the parties’ children, contact with their children and sometimes even a parent’s maintenance of any relationship with their children at all. The issues are no less complex, custody law in foreign jurisdictions, factual determination about the parties’ communications and intentions, troubling forensic issues of physical or sexual abuse to the other party or to the children, geo-political issues about human rights in other Nation-states, assessing even the viability of political and social institutions in other Nation-states and sometimes, whether those Nation-states even have a functioning government. Then, after you have gathered and assessed it all, you have to prove it all.
It gets complex; it gets complex in a hurry and now it gets complex at almost at the speed of light.
So how can anyone function in this hyper-fast paced litigation world? If you are a lawyer and a potential client approaches you about handling a Hague Convention case they’ve just been served, look for notice of the hearing date already set beause the hearing is probably in just a few days. Know that this hearing is probably going to be the final trial of the case. Know that if you lose, your client’s children are going back to their country for life and your client may never get to see them again except in extremely limited settings.
Know that this area of law is quite dense and requires an in-depth knowledge of the nuances of the International Treaty, Federal implementing law, Supreme Court precedent (there are only a few and I’ve successfully argued one of them), circuit decisions from all 11 circuits (they often disagree), and foreign judicial decisions on the relevant Treaty Articles because foreign law is a part of the decision making rubric of the Federal Bench in Hague Convention cases.
Oh, you also need to know your client’s case, their history, the entirety of their communications with their spouse or significant other in the past few years and be able to gather significant and sometimes copious evidence from a foreign country to support your client’s contentions. Good luck with all that in just a few days.
If you are a party, prepare. Prepare now. If you have removed your child, or are even thinking about it, know that you will be drawn into a huge hydra of a trial that will require a tremendous amount of planning and evidence if you hope to be successful. Think about what you will need. Gather your evidence now, don’t wait until someone shows up at your door with a Federal Summons telling you that the judge requires your attendance in less than a week.
Best bet, call a Hague Convention attorney, long before you remove the children. Call them even if you are just thinking about removing your children. Learn what you must know to be successful. Develop a strategy and a game plan before you make your first move. Then, when you have removed the children and that knock comes at your door with a Federal Summons, you will have been waiting for them for a long time. You will be ready.
If your child has been removed, move very quickly because the longer you wait to go after your children, the more likely you will not be successful. But going after your children does not mean rushing into an ambush. With all possible speed, put your case together. Gather your evidence. This job is a little easier because the evidence mostly comes from where you live, not the place to where your children have been taken.
The bottom line here too is hire a Hague Convention attorney the moment you know your children have been taken. Don’t lose time while your spouse or significant other tells you that their removal is temporary, they’re just thinking things over and need a little space. Treat this excuse like a stall, because that is likely what it is. The more you believe it isn’t, the more likely your children will remain gone. There are immediate steps your Hague Convention attorney can take to improve your case. Don’t waste the opportunity. Don’t waste any opportunity. You’re going to need every one you can get.
This is serious business. It matters more than pretty much everything else. Your road is tough, regardless of which side of this issue you find yourself. Plan and lawyer up. You are far more likely to be successful if you give it your thorough attention and effort from the very beginning because, once the case launches, that rocket takes off at break-neck speed.
Bottom line, buckle up for the ride. Taking off strapped to a Saturn 5 rocket will seem like a walk in the park by the time you are done.