Joel S. Walter, an lawyer practicing in New York, a member of the I CARE Foundation, and a member of the Attorney Network said, "Having been involved in complex federal litigation cases for 40 years, I have to say that participating in the Department of State's "Hague Convention Attorney Network" has been extremely rewarding on a personal level because I am able to assist children who really need help. But there is another side to this for attorneys who practice or are interested in family law, and that is that the knowledge and experience you may gain by participating in the Department of State's attorney network is priceless. And for all lawyers, but particularly young lawyers starting out in their career, becoming an expert in an area is critical. As international abductions continue to rise to unthinkable numbers, there is a great need for skilled lawyers. How can an attorney gain this much needed experience? By participating in the "Hague Convention Attorney Network."
Unquestionably, international family law and the need for skilled and educated attorneys familiar with this area is growing substantially. In fact, there are over 1,640 'reported' cases of International Parental Child Abduction originating from the United States according to the last published report issued from the Department of State to Congress. This number has nearly tripled since 2006 according to a recent report issued by the Government Accountability Office's ("GAO") recommendation to create a airline screening list for American citizens considered by the courts to be high-risk child abductors. According to the recently published resource guide "The World Turned Upside Down" written by Peter Thomas Senese and Carolyn Vlk, the growth rate of international abduction is conservatively estimated to be at 20% per year. According to the publication, from 2009 to 2020, if growth rates continue there will be over 50,000 American children criminally abducted abroad. The same publication, as cited in the special report titled 'Crisis In America' cites that it is estimated that there could be between 50,000 and 75,000 unreported cased of international child abduction originating from the United States during the same period. Furthermore, the number of incoming cases originating from a foreign country to the United States has also increased at rates similar to outbound cases.
The anticipated case load does not include or forecast litigation involving international child abduction prevention litigation. I CARE Foundation director Peter Thomas Senese commented, "The number of international child abduction prevention cases that the foundation is involved with are significant and represent more cases than actual abduction cases - which on its own account are substantial and growing. Unquestionably, this is a growing field of law and there appears to be a shortage of qualified attorneys practicing in this arena I think primarily because society as a whole does not realize their is a severe epidemic before us."
The Office of Children's Issues in the U.S. Department of State serves as the U.S. Central Authority for the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the "Convention"). The International Child Abduction Remedies Act ("ICARA"), establishes procedures for litigating Convention cases in the U.S. The U.S. Central Authority has numerous functions including facilitating the institution of judicial proceedings in the U.S. "with a view to obtaining the return of the child and, in a proper case, to make arrangements for organizing or securing the effective exercise of rights of access." In April of 2008, the U.S.Central Authority assumed the responsibility for all incoming cases, and overseeing a network of volunteer attorneys.
The "Attorney Network" provides critical assistance. Lawyers that join the "Attorney Network" are asked to consider taking Hague Convention return and access cases on a pro bono or reduced fee basis. There is never an obligation to take a case, and legal fees and expenses may be recoverable under the Convention's Article 26 and the implementing statute (42.U.S.C 11607), and under state law when state law remedies are pursued (e.g., UCCJEA). In addition, lawyers with and without Hague experience are welcome to join the Attorney Network, as the Attorney Network offers a host of information and mentor programs. In addition to incoming cases of abduction, attorneys can also represent parents in abduction prevention cases and outgoing abduction cases.
Patricia M. Lee, a Florida attorney practicing in the area of parental child abduction and a member of the I CARE Foundation states, “I feel privileged to have been a referral attorney for the implementing agency for many years of my private practice. The trauma experienced by victimized children and parents when faced with a child abduction, especially in the international arena, is overwhelming, primarily due to the lack of experienced attorneys, but also, due to the great financial burden, and cultural and language barriers. When they have nowhere else to turn and are so desperate, being able to help these people has been a rewarding experience personally, as well as professionally. It is worth every hour I have spent climbing the learning curve in this little known area of the law. OCI has always been responsive and helpful in the practicalities of dealing with clients living abroad, and the network of mentor attorneys available across the U.S., nothing short of a wealth of information and assistance. My experience in taking these cases has been humbling, to say the least, as I have seen the very best of my profession, which is too often the object of jokes and derision. I would encourage any attorney to join the Attorney Network.”
If you are a lawyer interested in finding out more about the Hague Convention Attorney Network, visit http://www.travel.state.gov/childabduction and click “For Attorneys & Judges,” or write to HagueConventionAttorneyNetwork(at)state(dot)gov. To learn more about international parental child abduction please visit http://www.travel.state.gov/abduction. To receive an application to join the Attorney Network, please visit http://travel.state.gov/pdf/AttorneyNetworkFlyer.pdf.