Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

Though Thanksgiving is now last week's news, I want to share events of that week with you as it relates to one 12 year old boy.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, late in the afternoon, 4:31 to be precise, I was just starting to watch the premier of Harry Potter with my three boys when my cell phone buzzed.  I usually will ignore such stimuli when engaged in family activities, but the movie hadn't yet grabbed me and I was out of the office early.  So I pulled the phone from my pocket and checked.

An Opposing Counsel in a very contested divorce matter had emailed me an attachment.  I opened the email then the attachment which was his letter.  His letter informed me that his client, the opposing party in a divorce action, was high tailing it back to her homeland in Nigeria the next day, Saturday, with my client's  and the opposing party's 12 year old son.

I immediately called The Firm.  We sent a letter to Opposing Counsel; we called Opposing Counsel; I sent an email to Opposing Counsel, all to object in the strongest terms possible to the removal of this boy from the State of Georgia, not to mention the United States of America.

When you file a divorce, the Court grants an automatic Standing Order.  The Standing Order sets some ground rules that all the Superior Court judges think are a good idea in every divorce.  The first section of the Order says that children of the parties are not to be removed from the jurisdiction of the Court.  This means you can't take kids out of the State of Georgia, absent approval from the opposite party or the Court itself.

And here the opposing party was taking off to Nigeria, which is quite outside the jurisdiction of the Court.

Further, Nigeria is not a signatory to the Hague Convention.  This means that if the opposing party decided not to return, she could never be forced to return the child, even though he was born here, raised here and had never set foot in Nigeria.

The silence from Opposing Counsel was deafening.  We had ample reason to worry that the opposing party was, in fact, running.  My most excellent team sprung into action.

Associate Jeremy Abernathy drafted a quick Motion for an Emergency Hearing; Paralegal Robyn Midanaky checked every corner of the Courthouse for a judge at that late hour.  Sadly, none could be found.  All our judges had left for the day and would not return to the Courthouse until after the child had been successfuly spirited out of the country and into hostile territory, from the Hague's perspective.  Opposing Counsel had timed his strike perfectly.

Next, paralegal Nora Stocks came on board.  She, too had been spending a late afternoon/early evening with her family but left all of that aside and spent the next 18 hours working closely with the United States' State Department, Customs, Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Atlanta Police Department coordinating everyone's activity and obtaining and providing them with the necessary documents to stop the opposing party from fleeing the country with the boy the next day. 

After dozens of calls and hours upon hours on the telephone, at 11:00 on Saturday night, United States and local officials intercepted the opposing party at the gate and explained to her in no uncertain terms that she was not stepping onto that airplane with that boy.  The boy was saved.

The opposing party decided to fly on to Nigeria that night.  She left the boy behind in the care of her 22 year old daughter from a prior relationship, who had also been booked on that Nigeria bound flight.

By Monday we had filed our Motion.  By Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., the Judge assigned to the divorce case heard the weekend's history and Ordered Opposing Counsel to turn over the boy to my client.

That Thursday, in the middle of the afternoon, my client bowed his head with his son to pray, thankful that his boy was with him, feasting at the table in this most American holiday. 

I want to express my sincere and deep thanks to my most excellent staff, and particularly Nora.  Their hard work and dedication to our purpose saved this boy and provided our client with a very happy Thanksgiving.

Michael Manely

1 comment:

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