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What to do if Your Ex Won’t Return Child After Half Term

Half Term, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas… the last quarter of the year is packed full of family fun. However, if you are separated or divorced, sharing a child during the holidays is not easy, especially if your ex refuses to obey your parenting or custody agreement.

Half term school break is right around the corner, and for many parents, this is an exciting time to spend some quality time with your child. However, ask many divorced parents about child visitation rights, and you’re likely to hear some discontent about the situation. Especially when a parent ignores an established holiday exchange schedule.

When a parent violates a court-ordered or agreed-upon parenting plan, they run the risk of being held in contempt of court. A parent refusing to bring a child back to the custodial parent after a visit is also known as Parental Child Abduction which requires fast, legal action.

Parenting Plans 101

A parenting plan is a document that says who will make decisions for a child and how those decisions will be made. This often happens in a parental responsibilities case. These plans outline how you and the other parent will continue to care and provide for your children after you separate.

It’s a good idea for a parenting plan to have a system in place for how disputes should be handled if the situation arises, and a way in which parents can periodically review and make necessary changes to the plan. The plan may also include other provisions or information intended to help both parents understand and abide by the shared responsibilities in raising the child or children.

What to include in your plan:

  • Where the child lives
  • Time the child spends with each parent
  • How each parent gets information and records about the child
  • How the child is to be transported for parenting time
  • An airtight Holiday schedule

The final parenting plan will always be aligned with what’s in the best interests of the child.

Important Factors of a Parenting Plan in Illinois

  • Each parent must file a parenting plan within 120 days of asking the court for parental responsibilities;
  • If the parents agree on parental responsibilities, including parenting time, they can file one parenting plan (signed by both parents) within the 120 days. If the parents don’t agree, they must each file their own parenting plans;
  • If neither parent files a parenting plan, the court will hold a hearing to determine the child’s best interests; and
  • The court will look at the parenting plans when it decides who gets parental responsibilities.

Once both plans have been created and shared with the court to examine each parent’s responsibilities, the court can accept the plan and it becomes a Joint Parenting Order. After the Joint Parenting Order is in place, changes cannot be made to it for two years.

Parenting Plans for Holidays, Vacations & School Breaks in Illinois

Splitting up holidays, vacation time, and school breaks can be challenging, but there are ways to make it work for everyone involved.

For many parents, it makes sense to take an odd/even approach to the holiday season. For example, one parent could have the child/children for Thanksgiving on odd years, but Christmas for even years. The other parent would have the children for Thanksgiving on odd years and Christmas on even years. An an alternative choice by parents during the holidays is a fixed holiday schedule. This takes a more simple approach of assigning a certain holiday, every year, to a certain parent. While this could cause some form of conflict for those to want to alternate the holidays, it works well for separated couples with different religions.

At any point, one parent may need to modify a parenting plan. A parenting plan can only be modified by the court. Take caution with any out-of-court arrangements because they are not enforceable.

Parenting Plan Violations

Either your ex isn’t complying with the schedule or maybe there are more serious issues where you’re worried about your child’s safety; If you are concerned about the upcoming holidays and whether your ex will stick to the plan, you can and should probably take legal action.

According to 750 ILCS 5/607.5, if one parent violates the parenting plan, the other parent can bring an action to enforce the parenting plan. If the court finds that a violation has occurred, it can order:

  • additional terms and conditions
  • require participation in a parental education program
  • require family or individual counseling
  • require parent-in-violation to post a Chas bond that can be forfeited for payment of expenses
  • require parenting time to be made up
  • find the non-compliant parent in contempt of court
  • impose civil fines
  • require a non-compliant parent to reimburse reasonable expenses to the compliant parent
  • require any other measure so long as it is in the best interests of the child.

What to do if Your Ex Won’t Return Your Child

If your ex isn’t sticking to the parenting plan, have your attorney send a letter to your ex. This is often the first step towards getting your ex to follow child custody orders. Your attorney can write up a forceful letter that informs the other parent that they must obey the court order or be prepared to face serious legal penalties. Sometimes this is all that it takes to wake up a parent and get them to follow the child custody order.

Illinois’ new parenting time law (750 ILCS 5/607.5(a)) requires the court to handle parenting time abuse cases on an “expedited basis.”  In the old days it could take six months to get parenting time violations addressed.  Now, thanks to the new law, I often can get a remedy in a few days or weeks.

However, keeping a child late on a visitation in Illinois is technically a crime. If you suspect that the other parent has taken your child and doesn’t intend to return (known as a parental child abduction), contact the police. If the other parent takes your child across state lines or out of the country, local police will work alongside federal law enforcement, such as the FBI, to ensure the return of your child.

Experienced Parental Child Abduction Attorneys – Masters Law Group

Above all, your actions should be taken in the best interests of your child.

An experienced attorney can help you navigate the court system in this emotional situation, and make sure that you get in front of a judge as soon as possible. At Masters Law Group, we focus exclusively on Family Law, with a particular emphasis on International Child Abduction and cross-border custody issues pursuant to the Hague Convention of 1980 and the UCCJEA. What’s more, our attorneys are also court-appointed Child Representatives and have experience advocating for children in these high-conflict matters.

If you’re dealing with custody or visitation interference, or have related concerns about parental child abduction, contact us here today. We understand that above all, any actions taken should always be in the best interests of your child.

Q&A: Child Support During COVID-19.

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Masters Law Group Case Review: Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty between signatory countries (or “contracting states”) that provides for the prompt return of an abducted child to his or her country of habitual residence. Here, Masters Law Group fought, and won a landmark ruling in favor of our client.

CASE OVERVIEW

The husband filed a petition for the return of his two children, (a two year old and eight-month old) who were taken from their residence in Mexico to Wisconsin, USA by his wife – the mother of the two children – represented by Masters Law Group LLC in the Eastern District of Wisconsin United States District Court where the Law Firm of Conway, Olejniczak & Jerry, S.C. served as local counsel.

This case arises under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA), 42 U.S.C. § 11601 et seq., which implements the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The Act entitles a person whose child has been removed from his custody in another country and taken to the United States to petition in federal or state court for the return of the child.

CASE DETAILS

In this case, the mother removed the children from where the family was living in Mexico, and took them to Wisconsin.. The father then commenced an action for the return of the children under the Hague Convention. For the reasons that follow, the Court denied the father’s petition.

CASE RESULTS

ICARA AND THE HAGUE CONVENTION Under the ICARA, a petitioner seeking return of a child must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the child has been wrongfully removed or retained within the meaning of the Convention.

The removal or retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where – (a) it is a breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and (b) at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

But “[b]ecause children, especially those too young or otherwise unable to acclimate, depend on their parents as caregivers,” the Monasky Court noted that “the intentions and circumstances of caregiving parents are relevant considerations.” Id. at 727. Importantly, with respect to children, the Court explained that “an infant’s ‘mere physical presence’ . . . is not a dispositive indicator of an infant’s habitual residence.” Id. at 729. “No single fact, however, is dispositive across all cases.”

Based on the foregoing case details (found here),details the court found that the grave risk exception applied and held that returning the children to Mexico and separating them from their mother would expose them to a grave risk of psychological harm or otherwise place them in an intolerable situation. Case 1:20-cv-01028-WCG Filed 10/16/20 Page 9 of 10 Document 102.

CONCLUSION

In sum, the court found that the father has failed to meet his burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that his children were habitual residents of Mexico. In addition, the court found by clear and convincing evidence that returning the children would subject them to a grave risk of psychological harm or otherwise place them in an intolerable situation.

Accordingly, the retention of the children in the United States was not wrongful within the meaning of the Convention. The petition is therefore denied, and this action is dismissed.

HAGUE CONVENTION – INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION LAW WITH MASTERS LAW GROUP

Erin Masters and Anthony Joseph have extensive experience in cases involving international child custody disputes in both courts located in the State of Illinois and the United States federal court system.

Erin Masters and Anthony Joseph have extensive knowledge and experience with The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“The Hague Convention”) that was enacted into law through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (“ICARA”) which provides that a parent whose child has been wrongfully removed from or retained in the United States may petition for the child’s return to his or her country of habitual residence.

SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION

If you are faced with instituting or defending child abduction proceedings under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in the United States, work with the experienced lawyers at Masters Law Group. Contact us here today to schedule a consultation.