Breaking from the traditional Globalization101.org news analysis style, I will be writing the article in first person as this issue affects a close friend of mine, Rachael Neustadt. On the site GoFundMe.com, Rachael Neustadt, writes:
My two eldest sons, Daniel and Jonathan, traveled with their father to Moscow for an agreed upon two-week holiday to visit his family. They left on the 25th of December, 2012. On the day they were supposed to come home their father sent me an email saying that they were not returning. It wasn’t too long before he informed me that he and the children now live in Moscow. His abduction flies in the face of several court orders, including prohibiting him from keeping them from my care and control unless I give explicit approval, as I have been granted custody. All attempts that I made to persuade their father to bring them back, including personally taking a trip to Moscow to talk to him, were unsuccessful.
My boys, now 4 and 7 years old, need to come home to their mother and youngest brother. I need funds to address legal avenues in Moscow, pay consultants, and to take my case up in court. Many other small expenditures are needed, including travel, to advance my progress. Please help me to bring back my boys! Thank you.
After nearly a year, Rachael has won custody by the Moscow courts, though the boys are not yet back with her because her husband is now on the run in Russia. While justice was delivered relatively swiftly, enforcement is the next hurdle.
An International Law Quagmire
Rachael’s case is particularly challenging. In 2005, Rachael, an American citizen married Ilya Neustadt, who has dual Russian and German citizenship. They moved to London in 2011 and divorced in 2012. After the divorce proceeding were completed, Rachael received full custody of the boys. A few months later, Rachael gave Ilya signed permission to take the boys on a 2-week trip to Moscow in December 2012 to visit his family. He never returned.
Wading through the bureaucracy to get the boys back has not been easy. After much petitioning, the High Court in London issued three return orders to Ilya in Moscow. Ilya signed the orders, but did not follow them. According the State Department website on international parental child abductions in Russia, Russia “does not consider international parental child abduction a crime.” So Ilya did not feel the need to comply with the orders. Furthermore, Russia does not recognize foreign custody orders, so Ilya was able to ignore the return orders by the High Court without experiencing any consequences.
With the help of UK Member of Parliament, Rachael petitioned for a formal “order of service” from the UK Central Authority to be delivered to their counterparts in Russia. The UK Central Authority is the legal body in the U.K. that represents the U.K in Hague Conference on Private International Law, a global intergovernmental organization responsible for implementation of the Hague Abduction Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Abduction and other Hague Conventions.
Fortunately, Russia is a member of the Hague Conference. A formal order of service delivered by the UK Central Authority was issued to ensure that the Russian courts would at least recognize the document. Getting the formal order of service though was just the first step in a long process.
A Russian Lawsuit
In addition to traversing the British bureaucracy, Rachael has to tackle the Russian court system. She hired a Russian lawyer and translated documents for the custody hearing. During the custody hearing, the Russian court recognized British court documents giving Rachael custody and gave her custody of her two boys. Following the lower court decision, Ilya appealed the decision to the appellate court. Again at the appellate court, Rachael was vindicated and received custody once again.
Rachael was fortunate. The U.S. State Department website on International Parental Child Abduction Russia highlights the challenges associated with international custody battles in the Russian Court system:
The court’s view on the best interests of the child is a key factor in making custody decisions. According to the Russian Family Code, in determining the best interest of the child, the court will consider factors including: the child’s opinion (if appropriate), the child’s relationship with his parents and siblings, the child’s age, the moral and other personal traits of the parents, and factors related to the lifestyle each parent can offer the child. If living and financial conditions are equal between both parents, priority may go to the mother. However, if the father is able to prove that he can better care for the child, the court will take that into consideration. The court may also consider the child’s residence in Russia as in his/her best interests.
Rachael’s case was the first successful use of the 1996 Hague Convention on Child Abduction between Russia and the United Kingdom. Despite winning the case, Rachael has not yet won the battle.
After successfully navigating the Russian courts, Rachael must now navigate the challenges associated with enforcing the decision. Russia does not have laws that require the parent to return passport. Furthermore, Russia does not have legislation requiring the immediate return of the children. Rachael had to wait a week before she could apply for the assistance from the court bailiff. Meanwhile, Rachael watched helplessly as Ilya vacated his apartment and went on the run with the boys. This is an expected outcome because Ilya knew that the Russian enforcement system is weak in this matter.
Now Rachael has to follow the systems in place by the police, the court bailiff, child welfare services, and Russian Interpol and, unfortunately, the procedures that exist were not written with a foreign parental child abduction in mind. All of these procedures take time, which makes it more difficult for Rachael to find her ex-husband and children.
International parental child abductions are on the rise. The United States reported that the number of cases doubled since 2006, rising from 642 to 1,135 (Keung, 2013). The UK Foreign Office reported an 88 percent rise in the past decade. The exact numbers are not known as many cases are not reported and many do not even realize it is considered a crime (and for some countries it is not a crime).
Rachael is trying every legal means to retrieve her abducted sons and by doing so is setting precedent for others, a small consolation for a mother who just wants to be reunited with her children. Rachael works full-time to bring back her boys and has no income. These efforts are not cheap and require funds. Rachael has started a GoFundMe site: http://www.gofundme.com/BringBackMyBoys. Please consider donating to the cause. I am personally available to address any questions or concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bring Back My Boys. Retrieved from: http://www.gofundme.com/BringBackMyBoys
International Parental Child Abduction Russia. Retrieved from: http://www.travel.state.gov/abduction/country/country_5075.html
Keung, N. (2013, February 22). International parental child abductions rise with global migration. The Star. Retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/02/22/international_parental_child_abductions_rise_with_global_migration.html
Parental Child Abduction is a worldwide problem (2012, December 12). Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/parental-child-abduction-is-a-worldwide-problem