Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Financial Cost of Child Abduction by Timothy Weinstein

Much is made of the emotional trauma for both parents and particularly the children involved; I have touched briefly on the financial cost myself from time-to-time, however, when I say the financial cost has been $450,000 and counting, disbelief has been a typical response.

The following is written by Timothy Weinstein, a father of two children abducted to Brazil and this is his take on the matter - I'd like to extend to Tim a personal thank you for having the backbone to write this for publishing and the piece may be used freely and reproduced with attribution - I trust this will not be the last time we hear from Tim.

The Financial Cost of Child Abduction

by Timothy Weinstein

Parental abduction in itself is a traumatic event for the left-behind parent. Brazil alone has over 50 cases of abduction from the United States representing over 70 children, my own two included. In addition to the emotional costs the left-behind parent must endure, one must understand the financial costs. 

Due to my personal experiences, this article will focus on Brazil. 

Consider the case of David Goldman; in the 4 ½ years since his son, Sean, was abducted, he has spent over $360,000 in legal and travel expenses. He is not alone and according to a December 27, 2008 article published in the Financial Post, “[Francois Larivee] has burned through $150,000, and still there is no end in sight.” 

Add to this list, Marty Pate who to date has spent over $135,000, Klaus Zensen who has spent $65,000, Alessandra Oliveira is at $30,000 and counting - and the list goes on and on. Yet not one of these parents has their child back home. 

From this, it appears rather obvious that the only people winning are the attorneys.

At least one parent, Gary Reilly, whose twin sons were abducted to Brazil in April, 2004, never petitioned for the return of his children due to the perceived cost of litigation. As told in a thread on BringSeanHome.org, when he consulted an attorney, “He also told me that if I went to court, be prepared to pay a minimum of at least $100,000, before anything was decided.” A different attorney in Brazil, when asked what it would cost to present in court a Hague Convention case, quoted $30,000 plus another $20,000 if the case was won. When asked if the definition of winning meant that the child was returned, the answer was “No”. Winning simply meant that the first judge ordered the return of the child, not mentioning the likely rounds of appeals. 

How tragic it is that a lack of money rather than a lack of love could keep a parent from their child.

There are certain legal strategies of use to help alleviate the costs of expensive litigation related to a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. One such strategy is to sue the abducting parent (and any accomplices) in the United States courts. If you're lucky enough, they may have assets you can retrieve. Related to this strategy, David Goldman reached a settlement with his child's grandparents for $150,000 - a lot of money until one considers that he has spent over twice that so far in litigation. Another father, Marty Pate, was awarded $65,000 in U.S. courts, an amount unfortunately, he'll likely never see.

This situation may have changed with the Shannon-v-Khalifa precedent who was awarded a massive $3 million jury award upheld on apeal last year, yet the sting in the tail is there are no US assets to make the judgment work; the children are gone and remain overseas with no contact with their father.

It doesn't have to be this way. 

According to Article 26 of the Hague Convention, 

“Central Authorities and other public services of Contracting States[think country] shall not impose any charges in relation to applications submitted under this Convention. In particular, they may not require any payment from the applicant towards the costs and expenses of the proceedings or, where applicable, those arising from the participation of legal counsel or advisers.” 

Although it allows a Contracting State to make a reservation when it accedes to the Convention, thus removing itself from this obligation, Brazil has not. 

Article 26 continues by stating, 

“Upon ordering the return of a child or issuing an order concerning rights of access under this Convention, the judicial or administrative authorities may, where appropriate, direct the person who removed or retained the child, or who prevented the exercise of rights of access, to pay necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the applicant, including travel expenses, any costs incurred or payments made for locating the child, the costs of legal representation of the applicant, and those of returning the child.”

What does all of this mean? 

First, a left-behind parent may request an attorney from the AGU[think attorney general] in Brazil. In this instance, the Brazilian government itself becomes the plaintiff and assumes the legal fees. I, along with others, have used this arrangement, leaving precious financial resources available for travel and other expenses rather than legal fees. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this arrangement, but I'll leave that to another discussion. 

Second, it allows the left-behind parent to sue in Brazil for all costs they incurred in the fight to have their child returned to his or her habitual residence. This however is predicated on the Brazilian court system first ordering the return of an abducted child, something they have done only once so far to the United States.

Where does this leave us? 

Back to the first sentence of this article. While international child abduction is an inexcusable tragedy with a huge emotional bill, averting the financial cost is possible, however, it is highly problematical and there is no help with a large part of the overall costs which are not legal related - travel, accomodation and simple living expenses - and this assumes you know where your child is to start the process in the first instance.

©Timothy Weinstein 2009 – Fair use and reproduction is permitted with attribution

If you wish to contact Tim please drop me an email.


Anonymous said...

Very informative and as impossible as it seems it does go on.
You are right, it doesn't have to be this way. It should not be this way.
I have a child and his father and I are both us citizens who are still hapily married, and yet I hold my son a little closer when I hear about child abductions like this. I can't imagine the suffering parents like you go through.

I am going to do what I can from California and contact our representitives asking them to continue supporting this important issue. Things need to change.....Yesterday.
Kerry Mills

Anonymous said...

You make some excellent points but how well known are the sources of legal help for parents?

My daughter and two sons were abducted to the US and there was no legal help at all as the US has reserved on it when they signed the Hague and I had to rely intiially on spending a lot of money I just didn't have.

I look forward to hearing more from you and Karl.


Anonymous said...

see you are jumping on more bandwagons jugs included