Divorce Court ...

New Hague Convention language for orders

By Maria E. Matyjaszek

Plenty of parents express fear that their child’s father or mother would withhold the child from the other parent, or sneak out of the state or country with the child, never to be seen from again.  Most of the time, this does not happen, but if it does, it’s generally across state lines where authorities can more easily locate and reunite the child with his mother or father.

However, we have all heard the horror stories that are plastered across the internet where a parent takes his children to visit relatives in a foreign country, never to return.  The aggrieved parent flies out to that country, displays legal paperwork and begs for help at every embassy she can think of, only to be turned away because the country’s officials won’t recognize these documents as official.

In an effort to prevent and rectify international parental abductions of children, a myriad of countries have agreed to abide by the terms of the Hague Convention regarding international child abduction.  The objects of the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which concluded October 25, 1980, are “a) to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any Contracting State; and b) to ensure that rights of custody and of access under the law of one Contracting State are effectively respected in the other Contracting States.”  See Chapter 1, Article 1 of the Convention.

However, not every country abides by the terms of the Convention, which is something American father Colin Bower knows all too well.  In August 2009, Bower’s ex-wife, an Egyptian and British citizen, took the couple’s two sons to Egypt and has refused to return them to Bower, who has sole custody of both boys.  Because Egypt is not a party to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, the cooperation of the country is pitiful at best.  While Bower has been allowed a few supervised visits with his children, he is still being prevented from taking them back to the United States. 

A full list of those countries who are convention partners can be found on the website: http://travel.state.gov/abduction/resources/congressreport/congressreport_1487.html#.

Michigan’s parenting time statute, MCL 722.27a, has recently been amended to require specific language be contained in all parenting time orders relative to international child abduction.  The orders must contain a prohibition “on exercising parenting time in a country that is not a party to the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction.”  However, this does not apply “if both parents provide the court with written consent to allow a parent to exercise parenting time in a country that is not a party to the Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction.”  See MCL 722.27a(9).

To some people, a piece of paper means nothing and no amount of language can actually prevent something from happening in cases like this.  If people abided by all court orders, I would probably be out of a job.  However, amending the parenting time statute is an important step that Michigan lawmakers have taken to recognize the serious issue of international child abduction, and it will hopefully cause parents to think twice about any actions they may take.

The author is an associate attorney at the Law Office of Robert Matyjaszek, PLLC, Jackson, MI.  Her blog site is:  http://legalbling.blogspot.com.  She can be reached at 517-787-0351 or by email at matyjasz@hotmail.com.