A parental child abduction case has caused a social media frenzy in Spain. The Spanish mother, Juana Rivas wrongfully removed the children aged 3 and 11 in May 2016 from their home in Italy where they lived together with her partner, the children’s father. She is now refusing to return the children following a Return Order made by the Spanish court, citing fears that she and the children will be exposed to domestic violence in the event they return to Italy.
It is understood that the father issued an application under the 1980 Hague Convention for the summary return of the children to Italy following their removal. The 1980 Hague Convention is an international convention (treaty) involving over 95 countries. Its purpose is to secure the speedy return of abducted children.
The mother made a number of allegations of domestic violence against the father and it is has been reported that the father has a conviction for domestic violence from 2009. However the Spanish court decided the children should return to Italy, on the basis (among other factors) of the eldest child having shown no indication of not wanting to see his father following a psychiatric evaluation.
The mother appealed the decision but her application was refused. The Court of Appeal in Spain ordered the mother to hand over the children on 26 July at an agreed location. However the mother did not turn up and it is understood that she has since gone into hiding with the children. According to www.thinkspain.com, when asked about the whereabouts of the family, the mother’s solicitor confirmed publicly that her client had vanished and that she was and was 'unaware of what she planned to do with the children'.
The Spanish court has now ordered both parties to attend a further hearing on 8 August in order to decide how to proceed. It is unknown what the action the Spanish court will now take, however on similar facts, it is likely that the English courts would make a Collection Order in the event the mother continued to refuse to return the children to Italy. A Collection Order is used in situations where the child's whereabouts are known but the respondent will not return the child to the applicant in breach of an order to do so. Often the Tipstaff will collect the child and place him or her in the care of the applicant or the local authority.
This case has had huge media attention in Spain with the country overwhelmingly supporting the mother and events including mass demonstrations which have kept the story in the headlines for sometime. It has been reported by The New India Express that citizens of Spain have taken to Twitter to pledge their support with the hashtags #Juanaestaenmicasa (Juana is in my house) or #YoSoyJuana (I am Juana). A petition launched on Change.org in December 2016 has garnered more than 208,000 signatures. It is understood that even the prime minister of Spain has come out in support of the mother’s difficulties.
On the facts this is an unremarkable case, however what is interesting is how the mother’s plight, and allegations of domestic violence have become the main focus in the Spanish media. It is important to note that a parent is not permitted to make a unilateral decision to relocate with their child without the other parent’s consent even in the event they are victims of domestic violence at the hands of the other parent. Furthermore within 1980 Hague Convention proceedings the courts should not make welfare decisions but simply decide whether or not the child should be returned to the home country.
Often in these types of proceedings within the English courts, any concerns about domestic violence and the risk posed by the left behind parent are normally overcome by suitable protective measures. Such cases seldom concern the media, demonstrating the very different attitudes Spain and England and Wales hold in respect of domestic violence in Hague Convention abduction proceedings.
Marianna Michaelides is an assistant solicitor at The International Family Law Group LLP and specialises in all matters concerning children including international parental child abduction and international relocation matters.