A new Israeli interdisciplinary organization aims to give international lawmakers the inside scoop on issues of custody and relocation in the wake of divorce.
One side effect of globalization – which means that people are increasingly mobile and think nothing of moving to other countries for employment – is that after uprooting to exotic places they tend to fall in love, marry and have children there. Sadly, a relatively high percentage of marriages seem to go sour, and in these cases one of the spouses often wants to return to his or her country of origin, which can lead to a nasty custody battle over the children.
A newly launched Israeli organization is focused on providing background and facts about the legal systems around the world to better enable lawyers and judges to examine the issues and problems related to international custody and relocation in an interconnected and interdependent world.
The issue has become a huge one, according to leading American divorce attorney Andrew Zashin, founder of the nonprofit Center for International Child Custody and Relocation (CICCAR) (Hebrew for traffic roundabout).
“The world is getting very small – it’s so common these days for people to move around countries for work. In Israel, especially with the high-tech sector, there are so many international companies like Google, Cisco and Intel that have a strong presence here and bring people over from the US,” the 41-year-old Zashin tells ISRAEL21c from CICCAR’s base in Zichron Yaakov.
“They create families, start relationships, have children, and there’s lots of baggage. The digital world creates many opportunities, but also many problems.”
Learning from Israel’s example
Zashin chose to base his organization in Israel, because he says the country is already well versed in the issue of child custody cases and relocation, and that other countries can learn from Israel’s example.
According to Zashin, the issue of international child custody has become much more prominent in the US due to the high-profile case last year of Sean Goldman, whose father David fought a long battle to have his son returned from Brazil following the death of Sean’s mother.
“Cases like that have raised the profile of the issue in the US, and I think it’s a nice comment that by having CICCAR based in Israel, it can be part of the solution to this worldwide problem,” Zashin says.
Zashin recalls a specific case that provided the impetus for him to take on CICCAR’s battle, a particularly nasty child custody battle that took place in Minnesota in 2002. Two US-born immigrants to Israel had divorced and the mother left the country with their children, claiming that Israel was too dangerous a place for them to be raised. The judge awarded the mother custody of the children.
“In the case, her lawyers referred to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, which states that children wrongfully removed from their ‘country of habitual residence’ must be returned. The convention’s Article 13 (b) states a court ‘need not return a child if there is a ‘grave risk’ of exposing the child to ‘physical or psychological harm’ or if it would place the child in an ‘intolerable’ situation.
“That bothered me tremendously and it connected me in a strange way to the country and it planted a seed that germinated over time,” Zashin reveals. The seed grew into a plant that blossomed last year into CICCAR. Zashin says the organization aims to aid individuals, lawyers, jurists, psychological professionals, educators and others in making the best choices relative to the unique circumstances of families in transition.
“We hope the information we’re providing will not only receive special consideration from lawyers, but be utilized by the courts system and people involved in child-related issues of wrongful retention,” Zashin says.
“We’re not a law firm, we don’t take on cases. We’re an interdisciplinary organization that focuses on family law issues. We bring in experts from other disciplines like psychologists and academics to expand on the huge issues of relocation,” continues Zashin, adding, “We just had our first conference at Case University in Cleveland and are planning another in Israel later this year.”
Unfair targeting of Israel
Zashin sees Israel as being unfairly targeted by the ‘grave risk’ article in the Hague Convention.
“I think Israel isn’t getting a fair shake and is being singled out as a dangerous place for a child to be in. Dozens of parents have invoked this exception in custody cases to avoid having their Israeli-born or Israeli-raised children returned here,” Zashin recounts. “Especially during and after the Second Intifada, they argued that terrorist attacks on Israel make it unsafe for children. Israel was ‘too dangerous.’ ”
Zashin says that the Hague Treaty article has been taken out of context to be used in court cases as ammunition against Israel, an occurrence he hopes CICCAR will be able to prevent through education. “There’s been a co-opting of this treaty which was meant to protect people from horrific places like Darfur, or Haiti after the recent trauma there. But to make Israel analogous to those situations is just wrong,” he states.
“In addition, there’s an insidious dark side to that argument. When Israelis use the war zone argument against Israel, it hands terrorists an important victory. Terrorists don’t believe for one second that their acts will destroy Israel, but they do hope to deny Israel a sense of normalcy. When people buy into that – that Israel is too dangerous a place to raise children – you’re handing the terrorists what they want.”
The Minnesota child custody case involving the two Israelis was eventually settled, Zashin says, pointing out that the results prove that Israel places the utmost importance on the welfare of the child in custody battles, an attitude that Zashin hopes other countries will emulate.
“The case was eventually heard on its own merits, it was determined that the mother was the better parent and the kids were sent back to the US. I think this is a testament to the integrity of the Israeli court system,” he concludes.