Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Peter Senese: Honesty and Integrity In Child Custody Matters

As the rapidly expanding malignant tentacles known as international parental child abduction cruelly grasp at defenseless innocent children in countries around the world it is imperative that governments everywhere defend against this malice by passing and upholding local and national child abduction prevention laws. Critically, lawmakers must create abduction prevention laws while law enforcement and the judiciary must carefully uphold these laws that were created to protect innocence: our children.

As the vast majority of individuals around the world who advocate for targeted children will testify to, the most crucial component needed to fight the global war of international parental child abduction – and make no mistake: it is a war – is for child abduction prevention laws to be created and fully enforced.

Unfortunately, one of the heartbreaking issues that targeted parents face today is the great challenge and difficulties of having a court actually uphold new laws pertaining to risk factors associated with a potential child abduction. Judicial ignorance can no longer be an unspoken acceptable truth, and Lady Justice must remove her blindfold in the name of defending a child at risk of the horrific crime of parental kidnapping.

Lady Justice, hundreds of thousands of children each year targeted for cross-border criminal abduction need you to see. Today.

Before I go further, I will share an opinion many other targeted parents of abduction I have spoken to share with me: If a court handling a potential child abduction case establishes a zero tolerance policy toward any form of perjury, then the chicanery and intended fraudulent actions of a parent intending to mislead the court and abduct a child may actually be re-considered. A pretty simple policy: if you lie to the court, particularly when it comes to a child’s welfare, then you better be prepared to pay the consequences for your action: sitting in a cell for a period of time and losing your access privileges to your child that you previously may have been entitled to.

Presently, I am voluntarily assisting in several potential abduction cases, including a few cases that are located in the State of Florida. For those of you who may not be aware, on January 1st, 2011 Florida’s ‘Child Abduction Prevention Act’ that was drafted by child abduction prevention advocate and my good friend, Carolyn Vlk, became law. The law mandates judges to assess risk factors associated with a potential international child abduction and issue orders that will protect the targeted child and parent from a possible abduction.

However, in certain cases to which I am familiar with, there have been notable failures by the courts to fully utilize the new child abduction prevention law and carefully consider risk factors associated with a potential abduction as has been mandated under the new law.

Tragically, when a judge fails to uphold any child abduction prevention law, they have broken their fiduciary responsibility to protect a child. Equally, when a court fails to consider the criteria established under the new law, they are sending the worst type of message possible: that child abduction prevention laws mean nothing and would-be abductors will not be held accountable for their conspiracy to criminally abduct a child. And this – particularly when it comes to our children – is unthinkable.

The bottom line in weighing risk factors for a court is that a judge must ask this rather simple questions to themselves: ‘What if I am wrong and the child disappears? What true recourse does the targeted parent have to recover the child?”

Well, any knowledgeable judge will know that once a child is removed from their local jurisdiction and taken to another country, the jurisdiction of their court ceases to exist for all intensive purposes. Now jurisdiction belongs to the international courts, so long as the arriving country (the country where the child was illegally taken to) participates in an international treaty such as the 'Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction'. Regrettably, too many nations, including most Asian and Middle Eastern countries are not members of the Hague Convention, while other countries such as Mexico and Brazil are known to not uphold the international treaty they freely signed.

Truly, attempting to navigate an international parental child abduction is like ‘Chasing The Cyclone’.

Consider this: presently there are approximately 230 American children criminally detained in Japan due to a parental kidnapping. Japan is not a member of the Hague Convention. No American child-citizen abducted to Japan has ever been returned. Ever.

Or perhaps a judge should consider the difficulties that a targeted mother would face if her child were kidnapped to Saudi Arabia or any other Middle Eastern country. The prospect of mom safely bringing their child home is near non-existent.

So what exactly is it that a judge must do?

Act prudently at all times and in all circumstances while carefully investigating every aspect of each unique case. Additionally, the court must realize that for many, the international courts are extraordinarily difficult to navigate, that is, if a venue really even exists for a targeted parent to attempt to seek judicial intervention.

One component not often spoken about when considering risk factors is when a parent who may abduct files a (false) police report against the other parent. In scenarios such as this, the court must be mindful that international parental child abduction is a premeditated and well-planned act against both the abducted child and the left behind targeted parent, and that the parent planning an abduction is more than likely familiar with the international laws available to them that they may use to sanction their disobedience before the court.

Specifically, Article 13 of the Hague Convention reads:

Notwithstanding the provisions of the preceding Article, the judicial or administrative authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return of the child if the person, institution or other body which opposes its return establishes that –

a) the person, institution or other body having the care of the person of the child was not actually exercising the custody rights at the time of removal or retention, or had consented to or subsequently acquiesced in the removal or retention; or

b) there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.

The judicial or administrative authority may also refuse to order the return of the child if it finds that the child objects to being returned and has attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of its views.

In considering the circumstances referred to in this Article, the judicial and administrative authorities shall take into account the information relating to the social background of the child provided by the Central Authority or other competent authority of the child's habitual residence.

When a parent who is believed to be a potential abductor files a police report against the other parent the court must consider the validity of the complaint and move with great caution because the potential abductor may have now created a plausible but misleading defense under Article 13 of the Hague Convention that a return of the child back to the child’s country of origin may not be in the best interest of the child.

Thus, court’s must be especially mindful that if a parent is able to illegally depart the country of origin with the child, the difficulties of the targeted parent being able to legally return the child has grown exponentially. This said, the court’s must also consider if a complaint may be valid and act accordingly in the name of the best interest of the child.

The bottom line is this: we’re living in a multi-cultural society where individuals from around the world meet and have a child. At times, like in any other relationship, couples will separate or divorce. Unfortunately, too often the child of the partnership is used as a pawn in order to cause great hardship and pain to the targeted parent. International child abduction occurs, and is growing at substantial rates as shared in the report Carolyn Ann Vlk and I have published titled ‘Crisis In America: International Parental Child Abduction Today’. And most concerning is the fact that certain government policies such as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative have created loopholes for abduction (Click Here to read Peter Senese and Carolyn Vlk's report)

Therefore in lieu of the rapidly growing epidemic now at hand, it is the courts and their sitting judges who offer children with their best defense so long as these judges do not put their head in the sand and mistreat the issues of a potential threat of abduction with an uneducated view of the seriousness of the matters at hand. In order for a court to fulfill its duty to the child-citizens they are obligated to protect, a judge must consider all the risk factors of a potential abduction and act swiftly, boldly, and with action that will secure the safety and welfare of both targeted child and targeted parent.

Perhaps the best overall indicator of an abduction threat is when a parent with strong ties to another country is found to be dishonest to or mislead the court during any matters when it comes to the welfare of a child. Perhaps if the courts upheld the integrity of the procedures before them, including holding a parent accountable for perjury or contempt, judges may be able to prevent the cruelty of storms from descending on a child. Perhaps each court hearing involving a child’s welfare should begin with a judge saying, “Welcome to my courtroom. I want both parties to know that if either of you act in any dishonest way or fail to obey my direction in any capacity, I will hold you in contempt of court. Now let’s proceed.”

For more information on international parental child abduction please visit Chasing The Cyclone. To visit Peter Thomas Senese's official website, please Click Here.