During the early stages of my legal career, I had the opportunity to work on a tragic case, Khan v. Rajput, which resulted in the unpublished appellate decision, which can be located here, http://law.justia.com/cases/new-jersey/appellate-division-unpublished/2010/a3122-08-opn.html
The case centered around my efforts to facilitate the return of two young children to their father, Mr. Khan, after their mother removed them from New Jersey to Pakistan, without his consent. Ms. Rajput, then a medical student in the US, escorted the children back to her homeland to live with her family. After several months, she returned to the US without the children in order to complete her schooling. Upon arrival, she was arrested at the airport but patently refused to return the children to their father. She was subsequently released from custody, and we instituted trial court proceedings to ensure the children’s swift return. However, Pakistan’s unwillingness to be a party to Hague Convention meant that unless the case became a national story that it would be an uphill battle to compel their return.
In the interim, Ms. Rajput located free counsel through Legal Services given her academic pursuits, and proceeded to advance several jurisdictional arguments in order potentially prevent the children’s return to New Jersey. The crux of her argument was, in essence, that the children’s home state under the UCCJEA became Pakistan because they had resided there for more than six months, and that Mr. Khan had waited too long to seek their return. This untenable position was akin to an adverse possession argument such that if one successfully takes possession of real property (a child, in this case) for a long enough period they should be able to keep it for good. Thankfully, after a lengthy plenary hearing, the trial court rejected Ms. Rajput’s jurisdictional artifice and entered an order compelling her to return the children immediately. I believed at the time that I would get the blessing of watching Mr. Khan be reunited with his children for the first time in years.
Over my objection, Ms. Rajput immediately filed an appeal and was granted her request for a stay of the trial court’s order. In the interim, the trial court denied the request to hold Ms. Rajput’s passport and instead suggested that the risk of jeopardizing her medical career was collateral enough to keep her in the US while we awaited the Appellate Division’s decision. Nearly a year later after the issues were briefed, I successfully argued the matter before the Appellate Division.
Upon its remand and after the stay was lifted, we discussed the immediate return of the children with the trial court. In fact, Mr. Khan purchased tickets for the children’s return flight to New Jersey, and then we were alerted that Ms. Rajput had fled the country.
To my knowledge, she has never returned to the US, and Mr. Khan has never seen his children again. Nearly a decade has passed since he saw them last. I do not believe that he even knows what his children now look like.
The horrors of that case motivated me to find some context for it, which was not accomplished by watching Morgan Freeman’s performance in Gone Baby Gone. I soon realized that this fact pattern is all too common in our court system, and something that literally happens every day. According to the statistics tabulated by the Office of Children’s Issues, there were 799 new cases reported to the State Department of child abduction in the United States in 2012. That translated to 1,144 children being abducted from this country during those 366 days, or more than three a day.
A few years ago, we all watched intently as Sean Goldman was finally reunited with his father after a five year separation. This, of course, was preceded by the creation of bringseanhome.org, David Goldman testifying before Congress about his son in Brazil and Hillary Clinton talking about Sean on the Today Show. What goes without saying is that Mr. Goldman had the resources to make his story one that you heard. Mr. Khan and the majority of the parents of the nameless 1,144 children abducted in 2012 did not, and that is why their stories have remained untold.
Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” I echo those sentiments and only add that, we should not wait for one of these children to become tabloid fodder or to be championed by one of our elected officials for their names and stories to become newsworthy to us.
Seth Parker is an associate in Fox Rothschild LLP’s Family Law Practice Group. Seth practices in the firm’s Roseland, New Jersey office and can be reached at (973) 994-7538, or firstname.lastname@example.org.