Michael Shannon is living many parents’ worst nightmare. For 12, years Shannon has been separated from his two sons, one of whom he has sole custody of and the other which could not be removed from the state of Maryland without his consent. The children were abducted by their mother, Nermeen Khalifa, Shannon’s ex-wife who is an Egyptian citizen.
Many parents presume that they are protected from the other parent crossing the border with minor children, without their consent or court Order. Generally speaking, this should be the case. This matter, however, provides an insight into the extra precautions that should be taken by the custodial parent, as there are loopholes in the system which Shannon had to discover the hard way.
As reported by CNN, 12 years ago, Khalifa asked Shannon if she could take the children to New York, from Maryland, to visit some of her family. Shannon reluctantly agreed. He was prudent enough to retain the children’s passports in his possession.
Sunday evening, the time at which Khalifa was to return with the children, came and went. Phone calls to the New York residence at which the parties’ were to be visiting, went unanswered and unreturned. Frantically, Shannon drove to New York, only to find the house empty of people and belongings.
As it turns out, Khalifa had fled to Egypt in what was alleged to be a well thought out plan.
At that time, one parent was able to apply for a new passport, regardless of custody, which Khalifa did, assumingly knowing that Shannon would not relinquish their passports or allow her to travel out of country.
For the past 12 years, Egypt has refused to Order the return of the children, and the US has no jurisdiction to enter the country and physically remove them, or demand their return.
The Hague Convention is an international treaty which provides protection to ensure that children are returned from where they were wrongfully removed. The issue with international law, however, is that countries elect to be bound by the treaties—or not.
As it so happens, Egypt is not a member of the Hague Convention, and thus Shannon cannot rely on the convention’s protection to return his sons.
As the only law that could bind the countries is non-applicable, it is essentially Egypt’s view against the US. And since Egypt actually has the children in its jurisdiction, for the time being, their view trumps.
Although this is an American case, it has important implications and warning signs for parents worldwide. Parents need to be aware of the potential risks when the other parent has the desire and potential, for whatever reason, to flee to another country.
Parents should take care to retain passports, as in Canada both parent’s consent is required to obtain or re-new a passport, unless there is a court Order specifically stating the contrary.
Furthermore, if another parent is a citizen of another country or has family in another country, it may be prudent to research whether that country is party to the Hague Convention, and determine what protection, if any, will be afforded should something go wrong.
Regardless of custody, and unless there is a court Order denying access, an access parent has certain interests that would be prejudiced by the other parent taking a child out of country. Access may go from being easily exercised, to almost impossible to exercise. Therefore, non-custodial parents should be advised that they still have a say in the matter, in so far as their ability to have meaningful access is concerned.
This is a scary, but important topic to keep in mind. Parents can protect themselves by being proactive, and in certain circumstances, considering worst possible scenarios, so that appropriate terms can be incorporated into court Orders to ensure they have proper protection and relief in the event of breach.