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August 29, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Here’s one to watch (Plano Courier Star, 8/20/13). It’s another parental kidnapping with overtones of possible perjury on the part of the mother.

Back in 2007, Texan Bart Hermer and British citizen Simone Cohen met on a cruise for singles. They were soon engaged despite the fact that Hermer lived in New York City and Cohen in England. Still, by 2008, Cohen was pregnant and the pair moved to Plano, Texas where their daughter Alessia was born in November of that year.

It didn’t take long for things to go bad for Hermer. He, Cohen and Alessia took a vacation to England, but, to his surprise, he was denied entry despite his valid U.S. passport. Cohen convinced him to return to the United States while she and Alessia, who was then not quite two, spent some time in her home country. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that Cohen and Alessia have been in England ever since.

Readers will also be unsurprised to learn that, when Hermer filed his suit under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the British court turned him down ruling, incomprehensibly, that England was the child’s usual place of residence. This of course is a child who was born in the United States, had lived her entire life up until her apparent abduction in the United States and had a U.S. passport.

I’ve seen a good number of cases in which British judges rule on the Hague Convention and they never seem to get it right. This looks like a particularly egregious example. The Convention is meant to set up a process under which cases are to be heard by courts in the child’s country of residence. Also, as should be obvious, the Convention opposes the abduction of children. Therefore, the Convention intends that parents can’t establish a child’s usual country of residence by the act of abduction. That would make a mockery of the treaty itself.

And it looks like that’s exactly what the British courts did in Hermer’s case. Cohen took Alessia to England for the first time in her life. She’d never been there before. But despite those painfully obvious facts, the British court ruled that England was the child’s country of residence. The only way it could do so was by permitting the child’s country of habitual residence to be established by her abduction, which the Convention exists to prevent.  Factually and legally, the ruling appears impossible. Of course Cohen may have lied to the judges, in which case, all bets are off.

So Hermer’s gone to court in Texas.

Judge Scott Becker awarded Bart Hermer custody of his 4-year-old daughter, Alessia, who has lived exclusively with her mother, Simone Cohen, since mid-2009. However, since the two live in England it remains to be seen what impact the decision will actually have.

"When I heard the judge's ruling, I just wanted to thank God that we had finally gotten a fair trial and our evidence was finally heard," Hermer said. "The mother won't respond to any of our requests and the biggest fear for us today was that if we lost ... I would never see her again until she wanted to after the age of 16."…

On Monday, Hermer testified that as far as he knew, the couple was still together when they took a family vacation to England in the summer of 2009. However, Hermer was denied entry by immigration officials. Cohen and Alessia remained in London while Hermer returned to the United States.

The two continued their relationship via phone and email; however, Hermer testified that Cohen told him in January 2010 that the relationship was over and his only relationship with his daughter would be via Skype. He also testified that it is his belief Cohen lied to immigration officials in order to keep him from the country, a move that was all part of her plan to abduct Alessia.

An English court ruled Alessia's habitual residence was in England, despite the fact she was born in Texas and held an American passport. Hermer said this decision was largely due to Cohen lying to the judges, and the fact he was not allowed to present any evidence to the contrary.

"This was never a case of daddy said one thing and mommy said another," Hermer said. "This is a case where the FBI, State Department, police department, WIC and the Department of Health had evidence that proved my daughter was kidnapped, but I was never given an opportunity to present that."

That’s what has me intrigued. Somehow the British court refused to hear evidence from Hermer. I understand he’s not allowed into the country, but courts take evidence via deposition, telephone and Skype all the time. So what gives? We’ll see.

In the meantime, Hermer how has a court order for sole custody of Alessia. It was issued by a Texas judge and so British courts are free to ignore it as they doubtless will. But Hermer seems to have information about Cohen that may be of more interest to British authorities.

[Hermer’s lawyer Jessica] Janicek said English courts are not beholden to Judge Becker's order, but said a failure to obey this order, coupled with the potential for criminal charges in the United States relating to passport and Medicare fraud, and the United Kingdom for tax fraud, could have a cumulative affect (sic) and result in action being taken.

Hmm, tax fraud in the UK. That’s one that pricks my interest. If Hermer has any power over Cohen, that may be it. Again, we’ll see.

But for now, it looks like a British court has rubber-stamped the parental abduction of a little girl. After all, that on its face is what Simone Cohen did. Hermer didn’t agree to never see his daughter again. There’s no credible proof of his unfitness as a parent. And he didn’t agree for Cohen and Alessia to live in England where he, for still unknown reasons, is forbidden to set foot. What, if not parental kidnapping, can Cohen’s actions be?

And of course parental abduction constitutes child abuse according to mental health professionals.

So that’s where this one stands now. It’ll be interesting to see how the case proceeds.

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