By BECKY RASPE | Cleveland Jewish News

Another habitual residence case, Golan v. Saada, involving a local family practice law firm will be heard March 22 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

The term “habitual residence” is essentially the location where a child has spent most of his or her life, or where he or she has the deepest connection. Whether the habitual residence is defined by the parent or by the child, age depending, is a matter of debate.

“I became involved because of the Monasky case,” attorney Andrew Zashin, co-managing partner of Zashin & Rich in Cleveland, and a member of Golan’s legal team. “This is in some ways the flip side of that case and I have always been interested in the Hague Convention’s Grave Risk of Harm exceptions.”

The difference with this case, compared to the most recent hearing of Monasky v. Taglieri that was ruled in favor of the father in February 2020, where Zashin represented the mother, Michelle Monasky, is that Golan v. Saada deals with grave risk of harm – where returning the child to his country of habitual residence would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation, as laid out by Article 13(b) of The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction – and whether a district court is required to consider ameliorative measures that would facilitate the return of the child safely, notwithstanding the grave risk finding.

A look at the case

In Golan v. Saada, the couple met and began a relationship in June 2014. Narkis Aliza Golan moved to Milan, Italy, to live with Isaaco Jacky Saada, and two months later, they were married in a religious Jewish marriage. Their child, referred to as B.A.S. in court documents, was born in Milan in 2016 and spent two years living there with his parents. But, in July 2018, Golan took B.A.S. to a wedding in New York and did not return to Milan in August as scheduled.

According to court proceedings, Saada then initiated actions in the Italian court system and the United States to seek the return of his son by filing a criminal kidnapping complaint, initiating civil proceedings against Golan. He filed his lawsuit in September 2018, but Golan refused, stating it would pose a physical and psychological danger to her and the child as the marriage was “physically, psychologically, emotionally and verbally abusive,” according to a January 2022 brief filed by Golan’s team, led by attorney Karen R. King, partner at Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC in New York City.

While Zashin has been involved in several domestic violence cases, what makes Golan v. Saada unique is that it involves the Hague Convention.

“Previously, the Supreme Court had heard only four cases regarding the Hague Convention, including Monasky v. Taglieri and this is the fifth,” he told the Cleveland Jewish News. “Monasky, that focused primarily on the Habitual Residence issue in the convention. This case focuses on the Article 13(b) issue, which is an exception to Habitual Residence, grave risk of harm. So, it is like the flip-side of Monasky. These are the two issues are pillars of the entire 1980 Hague Convention of Child Abduction, and cases like this will be cited forever. My client is an abused woman, a mother, who is both sympathetic and in an intolerable situation. The idea of her returning to Milan is horrible, unjust, and contrary to the language and spirit of the treaty itself.”

But Saada’s legal team, led by Richard Min, partner at Green Kaminer Min & Rockmore LLP in New York City, notes the case demonstrates clear child abduction under the Hague Convention, requiring the child to be returned by international law.

“I hope to use my expertise to advocate for a father who has been dealing with all of the complex effects of having his child taken from his home and extended family,” Min told the CJN in an emailed statement. “Decisions regarding the best interest of children should be decided by courts in their home country and parents should not be able to unilaterally abduct children with the aim of changing the jurisdiction of custody.”

Min added that since the child had been taken to the United States, B.A.S. has been “deprived of the love and support from the father and his extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who live in the same building.”

“Prior to the abduction, the child had daily contact with his extended family as well as weekly Shabbat meals and family gatherings, which he has since been denied,” he said.

Golan seeks ‘get’ from Saada

One of the other aspects of the case surrounds the claim that Golan has been denied a get, or a Jewish religious marriage divorce, from Saada.

“As such, she cannot remarry or have traditionally Jewish children under Jewish law,” Zashin said. “It is the first time a woman in this position, a chained woman, an “agunah,” has made it to the Supreme Court. It may not move the legal needle so to speak, in this case, but it does describe the character of the individual demanding the return of the child to Italy. The ability for her to have a family, the ability to define the nature of your family, is a human right. And our client, Ms. Golan, is being denied that right.”

But, Min noted that Saada has “consistently said he has no problem with the get as soon as the child returns to Italy.”

International importance

Michael P. Scharf, dean and the Joseph C. Hostetler-BakerHostetler Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, who helped co-write a March 2021 amicus brief submitted by the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at CWRU, said the Golan v. Saada case, along with the prior Monasky v. Taglieri case, is “very important,” because of the sheer number of Americans that live abroad, have kids abroad or are married to people who live abroad.

“These are basically the two most important cases to be decided by any court in the world regarding this treaty,” he told the CJN. “The first case answered the question of what habitual residence means. This one focuses on the grave risk of harm, which is the exception of habitual residence. They’re bookends of the Hague Convention.”

Scharf said when the courts determined grave risk of harm but still moved to consider ameliorative measures was a “weird decision.”

“The story is that if the court finds there is a grave risk of harm for the child, the court should not send the child back, full stop,” he said. “But the 2nd Circuit said what if we order these protective measures? These are just very involved things that the U.S. courts could ask the Italian courts to do. The U.S. can ask that they do it, and just have to hope they will. They can’t follow up or complain about it if it isn’t happening.”

Something like that could cause issues in international relations, Scharf added.

“In our brief, we say that this offends ‘good neighborliness,’” he said. “Two things could happen, both of them bad. The U.S. courts could defer wrongly to the Italian courts to enforce the ameliorative measures, or two, these orders could get in the way of U.S. foreign relations with Italy.”

Decision could further clarity

Zashin said he hopes the hearing causes the Supreme Court to focus on the case’s practical evidence, rather than just taking a legalistic look.

“The child at issue here is six years old. He has lived in the United States for four years, and doesn’t know his family overseas,” he said. “The court, practically speaking, should consider how much time has elapsed already, because of how deficiencies in our own court system when it comes to handling Hague cases. The court should realize that sending the case back for more proceedings in the lower courts, which is a real possibility, would harm the child even more. The child at issue does not even speak Italian. Anything the lower courts can fashion in the way of ameliorative measures do not make sense anymore. Federal courts need to be streamlined when handling Hague cases. Therefore, remanding this case for further proceeding would be grossly unfair.”

And the fact the case is being heard at all is a “credit to our legal system,” Zashin said.

“This case has been going on for a years,” he said. “There are so many unanswered questions in our system about how it can handle situations like this. So, we hope the Supreme Court is going to create some uniform procedural rules and not make the situation worse. Ideally, we want the Court in this case to stop the delays, end all the court proceedings, and let the child stay in the only home he knows.”

Min said his team hopes the child is instead returned to Italy in time for the custody proceedings scheduled for June.

“Ultimately, a thorough best-interests analysis will also include an evaluation, not just of the father, but also of the mother’s parental abilities and the risk she may herself present to the child,” he said. “These factors are critical to the custody case in Italy but have largely been ignored as it is not relevant to a Hague case, which serves only to highlight the differences between a custody case and a Hague abduction case.”

But simply put, Zashin said, “this sounds like a cliche, but this case will literally be one for the books.”

Other than the custody hearing scheduled in Italy this spring, there is no currently established time frame for the opinion and vote.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.