International Child Abduction – A Growing Legal Maze?

The recent case of Marianne Grin in Russia has drawn attention to international child abduction and the legal failings relating to these cases.  After losing custody, the mother of four took her children to Russia, from their home in Italy, and is refusing to return them to their father. Like many child abduction cases, it has an international dimension – the children have dual American/Russian citizenship and are Italian residents. As the complexities of international child abduction continue to grow, within an increasingly globalised world, there is a growing  need for laws to govern these issues arising from cross border relationships.

The Grin case is scarily similar to that of Elke Mellersh. Ms Mellersh abducted her children in the previous year and fled to Turkey, she then committed suicide after taking their lives in November 2011. She had disappeared along with her children, fearing they would be taken from her, after the German courts had declared her  mentally unstable, and had taken steps to revoke her custody. Like the Italian courts, the German courts strongly favour the mother in custody battles and it is not easy for the mother to lose custody. In Germany, women gain exclusive custody in almost 100% of cases where children are under the age of 6, and in cases with older children this drops no lower than 95%.

As in the Grin case, the reporting of the  story was radically different in Turkey, the ethnic home country of Ms Mellersh, than it was in the UK. Despite also being a German case, the story went largely unreported in Germany, where privacy laws prevent newspapers from covering suicide cases. Ms Mellersh, like Ms Grin, also appeared to be escaping from court rulings she disagreed with. In both cases, allegations of abuse levied against the father, and numerous other people, were proven by the courts to be unfounded. She was a German citizen with Turkish heritage, the children were dual nationals of both Germany and Britain. None of them had ever lived in Turkey, but like Grin she had tried to reinvent herself as a “persecuted mother” fleeing to her home country. She was portrayed as such in the Turkish media, which took a nationalist stance and sensationalised the case without addressing or seeking factual information.

The most painful thing about this case is the possibility that theirs deaths could have been prevented. Undoubtedly, there were huge failings in Germany and in Turkey, where the children had been kept illegally for some time before their deaths. What would have happened if their whereabouts was known earlier? Would the Turkish authorities have complied with both German and international laws to protect the children? Would the Turkish authorities have taken or attempted to take the necessary steps to ensure their safe return? There are several laws in place which applied to the Mellersh case, such as the Hague Convention Against Child Abduction. The difference in the Grin case is that the whereabaouts of the children is known and these laws can still be enforced. Turkey which is also part of the Hague Convention is notably slow at complying with the convention effectively in such cases. Russia can still prove that it is able to implement relevant legislation and uphold the convention and it’s values by returning the children to Italy.

In his article in the Huffington Post, Harris Silver raised the issue of the importance of laws within and between countries? I agree that these laws are hugely important, especially in a world where transnational cooperation is becoming an essential part of legal practice. In relation to child abduction, international treaties are often essential due to the cross border nature of a growing number of these cases. That said, the application and enforcement of these laws is vital if they are to be effective in applying to those it seeks to protect.

14 responses to “International Child Abduction – A Growing Legal Maze?

  1. Its nice to hear some voices in the area of International Child Abduction. This is an area of practice that I am strongly keen upon since my experiences at 4 Paper Buildings in the Summer. Its amazing to see how many commentators actually discuss the need for attention in the Convention, but the issue of enforcement is never really studied. I praise you for bringing that up in this article.

  2. Child abduction and mental illness

    There are a several similar cases where very real dangers posed by the abducting parent are ignored and the best interests of the child, as well as international agreements are flouted in favour of nationalistic one-upmanship. For example:
    * Alexander and Christopher Watkins who have been located in Poland with their non-custodial mother but have so far not been returned to their Canadian father.
    * Alex Antoniou whose non-custodial British mother jumped bail (on an attempted murder charge) in Cyprus and fled with him over the border into Northern Cyprus.

  3. I have read a lot about Marianne Grin and her abduction of the couples four children, as I am in Italy. Here the court and court appointed expert are being held responsible as they let Ms. Grin have unprotected visitation with the children after they took away her custody rights, finding her a danger to the psychological wellbeing of the children. I think our legal system needs to reassess it’s capability to make sound decisions in light of the bias it has towards mothers. This abduction could have been prevented but the legal system that is supposed to protect children let them down miserably! Now Italy should take the lead in helping bring these children back home.

  4. Here is a link to the Huffington Post Article mentioned.

  5. Andrea-solicitor

    Tashalaw, wow, what a powerful post! These are among the most insightful (if unfortunate) examples of how easily abducting felons like Ms Grin or Ms Mellersh can fool and manipulate those in their native country, with dreadful and even fatal consequences for the children.
    Like Studentbarrister2011, I am interested in this area of practice and have been surprised at the lack of serious attention to the false accusations made by abductors, and the failure to appreciate that, statistically, most who run away from their lives suffer some type of severe mental illness, treating children as their personal possessions.
    The irresponsible apologists for abductions point to the rare anecdote where an abductor’s accusations may have been grounded in reality, ignoring overwhelming evidence (data, not anecdotes) that the vast majority are completely unfounded. The Grin and Mellersh cases offer strong counter-anecdotes of how easily accusations can be falsified, and their awful consequences for the children.

    • Child abduction and mental illness

      Every time a false allegation of violence or sexual abuse is used as a trump card, the credibility of true victims takes a damaging blow. Child protection agencies, women’s refuges and groups campaigning against domestic violence and child abuse need to take this trend very seriously and proactively find ways distinguish between a “battered wife” and a mentally ill mother, and in the latter case, to take it upon themselves to protect the children. The policy of never questioning a woman’s side of the story is being misused more and more frequently, the kids are the real victims here.

  6. Sad, indeed.

    Max Troitsky, a Russian-speaking US Citizen from Pennsylvania is in a sad situation. His estranged wife ( Anna Troitsky a.k.a. Anna Demyanyuk ), a US-Russian dual citizen illegally abducted their US-born US-citizen toddler daughter Julie Troitsky in late November 2011, against the US Court Order, and the details of this bizarre case are here:
    and on Facebook:
    and on Twitter:

    Thank you for the help, leads and following of this case…

  7. Andrea-solicitor

    The post by Bring Julie Home is poignant. If I were to speak to the families of the children abducted by Marianne Grin and Anna Troitsky, I would repeat the one thing they will hear often from professionals: the children need you, and they will come home. It is just a question of time.
    These mothers have done an incredibly rash, stupid, and dangerous thing. Now, after the initial exhiliration of the abduction, they are realizing what it means to be a child abductress, and that as felons their options are vastly reduced and the world is now a smaller place for them. It is important that the chasing parents (“left behind” is out of vogue) remain strong and never give up.
    The Elke Mellersh case is a terrible tragedy of international child abduction, and should be a warning sign to governments to avoid procrastinating in cases of verified mental illness of the abucting parent. Your cases do not have to end the same way.

  8. The Italian legal system is an embarrassment. It is more suited to the third world rather than a European State. The judge takes years to decide and then she decides to give a mentally unstable woman free access to four children! Where is the Juvenile court in all this? Aren’t they the ones who work to protect children…have they done anything? What about the prosecutor’s office, what have they done in terms of investigation? What the hell is going on in Italy!!!

    Very sad story, more details on this site.
    My prayers are with these poor children.

  10. Pingback: Update: International Child Abduction Marianne Grin Case | tashalaw

  11. Pingback: Natasha Kuilak Mellersh: Children in a Legal Vacuum: International Child Abduction | Country Talk Forum

  12. Pingback: Children In A Legal Vacuum: International Child Abduction | tashalaw

  13. The Hague Convention and it’s failings is a very interesting subject. I understand that it is the responsibility of the countries who have signed to use it properly. It is good to read that there are barrister students, who listen and find this a subject they like. Someone has too. This whole subject either works or it does not. It is very sad, I have seen some of those who are made so unhappy by the loss of their children.

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