March 12, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Another day, another international child abduction case and yes, another journalist who doesn’t grasp the basic concept behind the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
We’re used to that from the news media in Australia. The press there has covered itself with shame more than once in international abduction cases and seems poised to do so again. The case of Dorothy Lee Bennett has made the news there, and, true to form, Australian journalists find nothing amiss with her claims that her ex-husband abused their daughters. That’s true despite the facts that the American judge found the girl’s father to be entirely fit to care for her and found Bennett to have serious enough psychological issues to require therapy. You might think that, with the Tomasso Vincenti debacle fresh in their memories, the news media would be a bit more careful about swallowing the claims of abducting parents. But no. It seems that, if a mother says it, it must be true, irrespective of facts casting doubt on her claims.
The latest comes to us from Orange County, California. Here’s an article about the case (OC Register, 3/9/14). The writer, Roxana Kopetman tells most of the story, but carefully lets her readers know the allegations of the abducting mother — all of which turn out to be false — before letting us in on the findings of the Family Court judge.
So we learn that Tammy Zied and Christian Nørgaard met in California and married in 2000. They had two daughters, Mia and Sarah and moved, first to Germany and then to Christian’s native Denmark. Kopetman isn’t clear, but it seems the pair divorced in Denmark and at some point Tammy began claiming child abuse by her ex. Christian denied the charges, and a Danish court gave sole custody of both girls to him. Tammy moved back to California and at some unspecified date, her mother brought Mia to her. My guess is that she did so as part of an agreement between the parents that the girl should have some time with her mother.
Whatever the case, Tammy kept her there in violation of the Danish court order and the Hague Convention to which both the United States and Denmark are signatories. Christian filed suit in Orange County and Judge Linda L. Miller was assigned the case.
Now, Kopetman would have us believe that, in general, Hague Convention cases are, in the words of one lawyer, “complex stuff.” Actually, they’re not. Oh, Australian courts in particular can make them seem that way, but in reality, there are just two things to be decided. The first is whether both countries have signed and ratified the Convention. Two minutes of Internet access will answer that one for you. The second is what the child’s habitual place of residence is. In the Nørgaard case, if that country is Denmark, then the child must be returned there; if it’s the U.S., then she can stay here.
And really that’s all there is to it, at least in this case. The whole concept of the Hague Convention is that the courts of the country that is the child’s habitual residence are fully capable of handling whatever custody issues arise between the parents such as allegations of unfitness, abuse, etc. So the child should live in its country of habitual residence and let the courts there sort things out.
Abducting parents never want that to happen. Time and again we see them decide on their own that the court in a signatory country made a custody decision they don’t approve of, so they take the law into their own hands. When they lose their Hague Convention case, as they inevitably do, they cry “Foul,” usually claiming abuse by the other parent.
But that of course isn’t relevant to the Convention inquiry. Again, the courts of the country of the child’s habitual residence are deemed capable of deciding those and indeed all matters.
So it’s no surprise that Tammy tried to convince all and sundry not only that Christian is a child abuser, but that Danish courts are biased against mothers. She failed on both fronts, but apparently there’s a group of mothers who’ve complained to the United Nations that Denmark routinely discriminates against mothers in custody decisions.
Tammy Nørgaard and Sacramento resident Kema Mussolin, whose Danish ex-husband has custody of their 10-year-old son, have asked the United Nations for help. Their letters were registered for review under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international bill of rights for women, at a future meeting.
Meanwhile, the two women and dozens more have filed petitions before the European Parliament. And that seems to be “the tip of the iceberg,” said Angelika Werthmann, a member of the European Parliament who said Danish authorities discriminate against foreigners, particularly women. Werthmann said there could be as many as 1,000 cases involving Denmark.
A delegation from the Parliament's petitions committee visited Denmark last year. It met with parents, mostly women, who complained that authorities do not assist non-Danish mothers trying to protect their children from abusive fathers.
“These children seemed to be trapped,” Werthmann said.
“The Danish father seems to get what he wants,” she said.
Hmm, I’m dubious. The fact is that, when it comes to claims about “abusive fathers,” there are plenty of people who’d say the same about this country. Indeed, they say it all the time. Their constant refrain that family courts here routinely hand children to fathers known to be abusive has proven time after time to be utter bunk. As I’ve said many times before, why can’t they manage to find a single verifiable case in which that’s happened? After all, with over 1 million divorces being finalized in the United States every year and with a phenomenon as common as they claim “abusive dads getting custody” to be you’d think they could locate one.
But every single time they point excitedly to a case they say proves their point, even cursory examination reveals the claim to be nonsense. The simple fact is that family courts across the country are very serious about claims of abuse and fathers rarely get custody anyway, so the chances of a known abuser getting custody are slim and none.
One of the latest efforts by the anti-dad crowd came in the form of the article that appeared in Al Jazeera I recently wrote several pieces about. It was an astonishingly bad piece of agitprop, utterly at odds with the facts as found by the female judge. Had the writer read the judge’s lengthy findings at all? His article looked very much like he hadn’t. His claim, based on essentially nothing but the mother’s say-so, that a father who sexually abused his son had gotten sole custody of him, was just flat wrong in almost every particular. Every single expert (except those paid by the mother) who examined the parents, the child, the medical history, etc. found the father to have done nothing untoward. The facts of the case lead inexorably to the conclusion was that it was the mother who sexually abused the child. Once safely in the father’s exclusive care, the boy’s behavior improved.
That was yet another poster child for the anti-dad crowd’s claims that abusive fathers get custody.
Meanwhile, back in Denmark, a Danish member of the European Parliament called the allegations of favoritism toward fathers “crazy.”
Whatever goes on in Danish family courts, Judge Miller had no trouble figuring out what Tammy Nørgaard was up to.
Last Wednesday, Judge Linda L. Miller announced her decision: Mia would go back to Denmark to live with her father and sister.
The judge said she based her decision after reading all the documents and declarations submitted and following a one-hour interview with the child.
“She doesn't care where she lives. She could live in Timbuktu,” the judge said.
Mia loves both her parents, the judge said. She has “no independent memory” of being assaulted. A diary describing assaults, for example, was written at the direction of her grandmother, who brought her to the United States, according to Miller. “She's not afraid of her father. She doesn't feel threatened by her father,” Miller said.
And she misses her sister, Miller said: “She wants to live with her sister.”
As for Denmark's role, the judge said: “I do find that the Danish courts are capable of doing their job.”
Once again, we have false claims by an abducting mother and coaching of the child against her father. When given an opportunity to speak in private with Judge Miller, Mia told the truth — she loves her father and has never been abused by him.
Most tellingly, Miller found what we’d expect — that this is not a matter for U.S. courts. Danish courts can decide whatever matters come before them. Indeed, they already have. But Tammy Nørgaard didn’t approve of the decision made in her case. So she wrongfully retained her daughter in violation of numerous laws and the Hague Convention.
One other fact that’s typical of such cases: the abducting mother will pay absolutely no price for her multiple violations of law. California has a statute deeming interference with child custody a crime, which is precisely what Tammy did. Is anyone going to enforce that law?
It doesn’t look like it, which is as good a reason as any why it’ll continue to be broken time and again.
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