In February 2020, the Family Court in Kings County, New York addressed a custody jurisdiction issue between New York and Yemen in the case of Karimah K and Bassim A. The parents were married in 2002 in a Muslim Religious ceremony in Yemen. They remained in Yemen until 2005, at which time they moved to New York with their four daughters. They frequently traveled back and forth between the two countries. In Spring of 2016, the entire family traveled to Yemen. The Mother was apparently expecting to return to New York, but the Father unilaterally decided to remain in Yemen. The family lived together until November 2018 in Yemen, at which time the Mother vacated the home, without the children, and began living with her brother in Yemen. In April 2019, she returned to New York, leaving the children in Yemen. She then commenced custody proceedings on October 9, 2019 in NY. There was some significant wrangling in the New York court initially, with orders to surrender passports, temporary custody orders, and prohibitions on the father exiting the United States (where he was visiting at the time). The Father sought to dismiss the custody petition on the basis that Yemen was the children’s home state under the UCCJEA, and furthermore, that the Mother had executed a custody agreement before she moved to New York giving him custody of the four children. The Mother argued she was given no choice but to remain in Yemen, she had no means of travel, she was physically and verbally abused, and she was coerced into signing any divorce documents in Yemen. She argued that New York had significant connections to the children and that human rights dictate the UCCJEA should not apply in deciding whether Yemen was the children’s home state.
The New York Court concluded that Yemen was the children’s home state. The entire family voluntarily traveled to Yemen, the Mother provided no proof that it was only a temporary trip, the Mother remained in the marriage and Yemeni home for over two years before leaving the Father, and when she left it was presumably tied to marital discord and his decision to obtain a second wife. She then traveled to the United States, leaving the children in Yemen. The Court also stated that there is no imminent risk of harm to the children in Yemen, despite its civil war, and no indication that the father would be marrying off the children while minors or would otherwise harm them.
While parts of the opinion seemed to conflate some of the jurisdictional issues, even referencing the Hague Abduction Convention, it is clear that the decision was founded on the court’s conclusion that Yemen was the home state, and as such, NY could not address the issue of custody. Therefore, the court should not have needed to address virtually anything else.
As an aside, review my blog entry about a 2020 Maryland opinion where the children were allegedly retained in Africa by their father, and his unilateral act was considered a temporary absence from the children’s home state of Maryland. See that post by clicking here.