A Dad’s Fight Against International Child Abduction
Though media attention is only given to a select few international custody battles (most notably and recently David Goldman’s fight to be reunited with his son), there are hundreds of similar international child abduction cases currently happening around the globe.
One such dad is George Petroutsas, who is trying to get his son, Andoni (both pictured, right), rightfully returned to him from the child’s mother who is holding him in Greece. A federal court in California ruled that Andoni is a habitual resident of the United States, not of Greece.
However, the judge allowed the mother to take him to Greece for a final visit, and wouldn’t you know it, she is not returning the child.
Petroutsas’ attorney Athena Roussos said the Greek government seems to be protecting the mother since the country is refusing to extradite her on outstanding warrants she has in the United States or follow the Hague Convention, which Greece is a signatory to.
MensRights.com editor Matt Allen talked with Roussos about the Hague Convention, why the judge made the peculiar ruling to allow the child one last trip overseas during this contentious battle, and what options are left when dealing with international child abduction. (You can also watch the DadsDivorce.com interview with George Petroutsas where he discussed his emotions and efforts to get his son rightfully returned to him.)
If you are a victim of parental kidnapping, consult with the divorce attorneys for men at Cordell and Cordell Family Law.
Men’s Rights: Can you explain the Hague Convention Treaty, and why even though Greece is a signatory to it, along with the United States, it can’t be enforced to bring the child back to what has been ruled as his habitual home in California?
Athena Roussos: Well, that’s a good question. As mentioned, Greece is a signatory to the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention is the treaty that covers these kinds of disputes and the idea behind it is determining which jurisdiction should be the country that can decide who gets custody. So, it’s not to decide custody but just which country gets to make that decision.
The reason that we aren’t able to really enforce that treaty is because it’s really up to each country to enforce it themselves. We cannot force Greece to do anything with regards to the treaty. We do not have power over Greece, so we cannot just force them to do it; they have to do it themselves.
The only thing that we can really do is our State Department puts out a list every year of countries that are not in compliance with the Hague Convention, and I have asked them to put Greece back on this list because of their refusal to comply in this case. That’s really our only power here, since we can’t force Greece to do anything specifically.
Men’s Rights: Why have some political agencies or government offices declined to become involved in this case?
Athena Roussos: Well, there are two different types of involvement. First, is the State Department. They deal diplomatically with other countries and have been in contact with Greek officials about this case. They have been trying to get involved, but there is very little that they can do from what I understand or at least that’s what they’re telling me.
The other side of it is the criminal side, and we were hoping that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, or U.S. Marshals would get involved. We do have an order from a federal judge ordering the child back to the U.S. and he has held the mother in contempt.
We were hoping that he would issue a federal warrant for her arrest, but he has not done that, and the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office have simply declined to get involved.
I can’t tell you what their reason for that is because I have not been able to speak with them personally, so I am getting all this information secondhand.
The one organization that has been very helpful is the local district attorney in Santa Cruz, and they have issued a warrant for her arrest under California law. So there is a warrant for her arrest but is under California state law, so it has less effect than a federal agency getting involved.
Men’s Rights: Why would the judge order that the child go over to Greece for six weeks even though he knew that it’s a very contentious international custody battle, and obviously the potential of the mother keeping the child there was always a possibility?
Athena Roussos: I’m a little bit at a lost for why it happened. There are a few reasons that I can think of for why it happened.
Throughout the case, the judge had been allowing each parent to have 6 weeks with the child. Of course, the judge ordered George to pay for all of the travel, which we felt was completely unfair, but he did that and paid for it.
So, they were going back and forth and she did return the child a number of times while the case was pending.
The problem is that he came out with the decision in April — it was something like a week or two weeks before the next visit was supposed to be in Greece. I immediately contacted the court and asked him to vacate that order and it was something that had to be done very, very quickly because she was supposed to have the child on May 1. We knew there was a chance she would keep the child in Greece and there would be nothing we could do.
We had a couple of conference calls with the judge, and I really think he was very rushed on his decision on this issue. It felt to me that just because she had some plane tickets he was going to let this happen.
Men’s Rights: Finally, you mentioned how you predicted earlier that there would be nothing you guys could do if the mother decided to keep the child in Greece, which she has done. Is that it or are there any other options out there?
Athena Roussos: We are trying to think outside the box and consider any other options that we have. George has been working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and they have put posters up in Greece with the mother’s photo and the child’s photo — the mother is not to happy about that from what I understand.
There is a warrant for her arrest; again, if she does travel here or if she travels to another country where we do have extradition agreements it’s possible that she could be extradited.
We have asked that her warrant be entered into the Interpol system so that if she does travel her name would be flagged. We’ve also asked that the child be entered into that system, too, and I am not sure if that has happened or not.
Otherwise, I don’t really know. We’ve talked to the State Department, and they said they’re stumped over this case.
There seems to be very little else that we can do, but we do hope that by raising awareness about it that that will bring some pressure on the various government agencies.
Men’s Rights: So it’s just up to Greece to cooperate at this point, right?
Athena Roussos: I think so. I think it’s really up to Greece to cooperate because if Greece decides that they are going to protect this woman, then it just becomes very difficult.
It’s not like we can go in with the Marines or something and grab this child, it’s just a very difficult situation.
And I want to mention that Andoni is really the victim here. He is not getting meaningful communication with his father and is becoming very severely alienated from what I understand.
So, it’s really not just George who’s a victim here, but it is the child and the fact that the mother has essentially taken the child away from his father.