Cleveland Jewish News

New Custody Center in Israel is Zashin’s Passion

January 1, 2010 | By Nina Polien Light

Andrew A. Zashin of Zashin & Rich

International custody disputes are on the rise, but parents and attorneys embroiled in issues of child abduction, wrongful retention and relocation had no central resource for information – until last March when a Cleveland lawyer created one.

“I’ve worked on acrimonious child-custody cases where one parent wanted to take children from one place to another,” says Andrew Zashin, 41, a partner with Zashin & Rich. “These situations touched me personally and professionally.”

Located in Zichron Yaacov, a seaside Israeli city where Zashin lives part time, the nonprofit Center for International Child Custody and Relocation (CICCAR) represents a grassroots effort to bring together volunteer attorneys, psychologists, social workers, educators and other professionals to advise families and legal counsel or refer them to the appropriate resource.

Under consideration is a long-term and admittedly ambitious goal for multi-disciplinary experts from several jurisdictions to draft “unified principles for courts to consider when faced with issues of child abduction, relocation, and determinations of habitual residence,” says Zashin. This would be especially helpful for cases involving the Hague Convention or those pertaining to abductions between countries that have agreed to extradition.

Colloquially known as the war-zone exemption, Article 13(b) of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction says children who have been taken from their country of residence to another needn’t be returned if there is “grave risk” of encountering “physical or psychological harm” or being placed in an “intolerable situation.”

This section, particularly as it pertains to Israel, concerns Zashin, who cites the case of an American couple who made aliyah for Zionist reasons. During the early years of the second intifada, the wife returned to the U.S. with her children and subsequently filed for divorce here. Among her many arguments against returning her children to their father in Israel was the claim that it was too dangerous to send the youngsters into a war zone.

“I remember reading about this in a magazine and my head popping off because I was so enraged,” recalls Zashin, an ardent supporter of Israel and a married father. “She was hiding behind terrorists when it fit her personal interest.”

Because there is no uniform application, Zashin says even “enlightened” Hague countries have decided international custody cases differently. In past cases, the U.S. found that “returning a child to Israel does not represent a grave risk of harm,” but Australia deemed Israel a “war zone.”

“Too often courts’ decisions are too subjective or formalistic because the issues of child abduction and relocation necessarily are multi-jurisdictional and transnational,” says Zashin, noting that his organization is a resource for those involved with international custody disputes in any Hague Convention country, not just cases involving Israel. “CICCAR endeavors to make the considerations more humane and based on the interests and the unique needs of the children involved. Consistency is critical so that individuals can consult with lawyers about these types of cases and get advice that works irrespective of their location.”

Pronounced key-car, the Hebrew word for “roundabout” or “rotary,” CICCAR is not a law firm and does not replace Zashin’s Cleveland practice. “It’s academic and – at the same time – practical,” Zashin says. Zashin & Rich does specialize in issues of international child custody law. “Leading CICCAR is an extension of this practice area,” explains Zashin. “Committing time to CI-CCAR’s development is an expression of our desire to be the undisputed national leader in the practice of divorce and international child custody law.”

When Zashin is in Cleveland, an operations manager runs CICCAR’s office in Israel as needs arise. In early December, Dr. Yoav Mazeh, professor of law at Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono, assumed the role of academic director.

In the works are two CICCAR conferences that will cover the psychological points of view of abduction and relocation of children and will consider the effects on children of a parent’s unilateral decision to relocate or abduct a child. The first will be hosted at Case Western Reserve University School of Law on Feb. 4. Another conference, scheduled for May in Israel, will be sponsored by the Ono Academic College.

CICCAR is not an advocacy rights group for mothers or fathers, Zashin points out.

“There’s a lot of talk about the best interest of children, but sometimes in terms of execution and application, that doesn’t happen,” he explains. “So CICCAR is going to bring together disciplines – lawyers, psychologists, social workers, teachers – who can lend value to consideration of these issues. Not only is the group unique, but our approach will be unique, too.”