International Parental Abduction and the Coronavirus Pandemic

The worldwide spread of the COVID-19 virus has had an impact on families in numerous ways. For people who are divorced or having marital problems, the complications have been even harder, and less-widely recognized. There have been numerous cases of divorced parents arguing about how to arrange visitation during the pandemic, with disagreement over how strictly they must adhere to safety guidelines as the basis for some parents’ refusal to return their children.

One of the more obscure aspects of the law that affects divorced or separated parents is that of parental abduction. When one parent doesn’t return a child to the other parent as legally agreed upon, that can trigger a host of legal actions. If all of that is going on in a single country, its legal system will turn to its own code of law and rules about child custody to decide what to do.

Even more complicated, though, are the cases in which the parental abduction is international, with one parent taking the children to a different country or keeping them there while the other parent tries to get them back. The agreement known as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sets rules for how the legal systems of each country should resolve cases of child abduction and where the cases should be resolved. (See “A Child in a Strange Land,” in AmiLiving Issue #82.)

According to Jay Hait, an attorney who heads a law practice in Israel that specializes in family law and handles many Hague cases, the coronavirus pandemic has had some effect on these cases, although maybe not in the way you might think.

A personal story
Jay’s focus came about because of his own life story.
Originaly from the United States, he had lived in Israel for a few years in the 1980s, during which time he served in the Israeli Defense Forces and also attended university. Back in the States, he became a lawyer in 1997 and was working in a practice in New York.

“When I came back to Israel in 2004 I married an Israeli, and at first I was flying back and forth. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out too well and we ended up getting divorced, and I got custody of our three minor children. I soon realized that my original plan to fly back and forth to New York wasn’t going to work, so I ended up changing my area of law so I could get a license in Israel. In the United States, I’d practiced securities law. Because I saw how messed up the system was, I started a family law practice with four employees. One of the things we are known for is kidnapping cases.”

Jay explained that his work resonates with him personally.
“It’s very emotional for me, because I believe that if people want to raise their children in Israel they should be doing that,” he said. “But there’s a proper way to do it. You don’t just say to someone, ‘Let’s go to Israel,’ and then make it permanent.”

The definition of “abduction”
Although the legal term for these cases is “parental abduction,” Jay says that most of his cases don’t involve what we would typically think of as a kidnapping. Rather, some involve a divorced parent refusing to return children who have come for a visit. Others are simply a disagreement about where a family should live.

“In Israel, we have a large immigrant population, but a certain percentage move here and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t what I thought it would be.’ They want to go back to where they came from. But wham! They can’t just go back.”

Of course, the parent who wants to return to America could go back on their own, but if he or she wants the right to bring the child along, they need to file a Hague case.

Jay’s description of these cases startled me, because I had thought that Hague cases usually involved situations in which a couple was already divorced or separated. But in fact, he said that in many instances the marriage was functional up until the dispute over where the family should live.

“Most people who get to the litigation stage in Hague cases do end up getting divorced,” he said. “But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, when they realize that they aren’t going to get their way, they try to work on the marriage. A lot of times it’s an ideological difference, and those marriages can occasionally be saved.
“I would say that most of my cases don’t reach litigation, in part because I don’t want to destroy families.”


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