International child abduction expert lectures at the law school

Thousands of child abductions occur each year by parents wishing to bring their offspring to their native countries, says child abduction expert Ana Grammaticaki-Alexiou, despite an international treaty designed to compel the return of those children to their homes.

 Professor Grammaticaki-Alexiou, who teaches conflicts of laws at Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki School of Law in Greece, is on campus this week to deliver two lectures. One is on international child abduction and the second is about cultural heritage and human rights. She has been a visiting professor at Loyola Law and Tulane Law schools in New Orleans, served as a judge on the Greek Special Supreme Court for three years and served as vice chairperson of the Greek Delegation in the Civil Law Commission of the Council of the European Union. She also has published widely in the areas of conflicts of law, international protection of cultural property, international child abduction and the law applicable to individual employment contracts.

 “The bi-national marriages we encounter more and more every day are the reason for the child abduction phenomenon we see,” Prof. Grammaticaki-Alexiou told Prof. Kathy Graham’s family law class. “Ninety-five percent of the cases are between such parents.”

 The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of Child Abduction was adopted in 1980 and has been ratified by 84 nations including the United States. It is intended to prevent one parent from obtaining custody by taking their child to a country that would be likely to grant it.

 Prof. Grammaticaki-Alexiou said the idea of the treaty is to return children as quickly as possible to their country of “habitual residence.” Delays of a year or two are harmful to young children, she told Prof. Graham’s class.

 “Think of a baby or a toddler. After a few years they become a completely different person,” she said. “You don’t want that person to suffer being taken from place to place, as if they were a box.”

 She highlighted several abduction cases: One involved a Greek couple living in New York. The father was a doctor who worked long hours and rarely saw their baby boy. When the family took the child to Greece for a visit, the mother refused to return to the U.S. The father, who was agreeable at first, later claimed his wife had abducted their child. But a court sided with the mother, noting the father’s many hours away from the baby.

 Another custody battle in Greece involved a British mother and a Greek father. The mother had taken one of their children to Great Britain but was ordered to bring the child back to Greece. A judge ordered the couple to share a house – with the mother living on one side with their daughter and the father living on the opposite side with their son. Not a good decision, Prof. Grammaticaki-Alexiou said.

 Prof. Grammaticaki-Alexiou is visiting the U.S. as part of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation. The foundation finances scholars from around the world to lecture at universities in North and Latin America on topics that relate to Hellenic civilization.