On October 27, 2021, the Appellate Court of Illinois reversed a trial court’s finding that Steven was entitled to an order of protection and that Meeli was in indirect civil contempt of a court order to return their child from Estonia to Illinois.
The family traveled from Illinois to Estonia in January 2020. While there, Meelie refused to return to Illinois with their child. Steven had apparently signed some papers, written in Estonian, and Meeli represented to the court that the papers, signed after their arrival in Estonia, affirmed Steven’s agreement that the child could reside in Estonia. Steven did not acknowledge signing the papers, but said that after arriving in Estonia, people are required to notify the local authorities of their address, so, for example, if a child is lost, the police know where to return the child. The papers were not admitted as evidence as Meeli failed to properly authenticate the documents. In March 2020, Steven returned to Illinois. He apparently filed both a custody/family court suit and a civil protection suit in the Illinois courts. He managed to get an emergency order in the protection order suit mandating that Meeli return their child. Meeli refused. The trial court found that Meeli had harassed Steven, entitling him to an order of protection, and that she was in contempt of the order for refusing to return the child. Meeli argued that Steven had filed a Hague Abduction return petition in Estonia, but did not prevail. The court found that the Hague Abduction return claim and the domestic violence protection order claim are distinct and the latter is not barred by res judicata.
On appeal, the Appellate Court of Illinois, concluded that Steven had not made out a proper case for harassment. The Illinois Act “defines ‘harassment’ as ‘knowing conduct which is not necessary to accomplish a purpose that is reasonable under the circumstances; would cause a reasonable person emotional distress; and does cause emotional distress to the petitioner.'” “[T]he following conduct creates a rebuttable presumption of emotional distress: ‘[I]mproperly concealing a minor child from petitioner, repeatedly threatening to improperly remove a minor child of petitioner’s from the jurisdiction or from the physical care of petitioner, repeatedly threatening to conceal a minor child from petitioner, or making a single such threat following an actual or attempted improper removal or concealment, unless respondent was fleeing an incident or pattern of domestic violence.'” The record did not provide sufficient evidence of harassment per se.
The Court further concluded that Steven was abusing the process by trying to circumvent a proper custody proceeding by bringing a request for a protection order. He was attempting to secure a custody order that could potentially be recognized and enforced in Estonia. He was using this proceeding to advance his claims because the family court case was stagnant.