The Washington Post's Sally Quinn has a great op-ed column in today's paper regarding kidnapping and the German court system. Americans, or any non-Germans for that matter, who marry a German national and then divorce or separate, risk having their German partner return to Germany and never see their children again. Quinn barely touches on the real issues behind the story in her short article. Under international treaty, signed by both the U.S. and Germany, custody arrangements and rulings made in the country where the children reside are binding. Thus, when a German flees the U.S. with his/her children, the courts there should return them to the U.S., but that's not what happens.
The CBS news magazine "60 Minutes" did an excellent piece on this subject a few years ago, but nothing has changed.
Here is what is happening: Germans who marry and divorce Americans take their children back to Germany. Then, in a scenario worthy of Kafka, the American parent is deprived of any custody or visitation rights. After several years, the children don't know or remember their other parent. The courts then decree that the children don't want to see that parent and would be traumatized by any visit. The courts also bill the American parents for child support. If these parents refuse to pay, and still try to see their children any way they can (say, from a parked car across the street from the house), they are thrown in jail for nonpayment.
This is happening in Germany not only to American parents but also to any parent who is not a German national.
This week German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer denounced the United States for its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, demanding that it adhere to the Geneva Convention. How ironic that he cares so little about the rights of kidnapped children and their parents from foreign countries. If ever there was a human rights violation, these kidnappings are it. One might even call them acts of terrorism.
The horror stories are legion. Here are just a few:
Joseph Cooke married a German woman. She stole his children, went back to Germany, had a nervous breakdown and put the children in foster care. The German government thinks it is better to have the children in German foster care than living with their non-German natural father. After years of fighting and thousands of dollars, Cooke still has no visitation rights, and his children regard him as a stranger.
The children of Catherine Meyer -- now the wife of Britain's ambassador to the United States -- were abducted in 1994. She has seen them for only a matter of hours since then, despite many trips to Germany and thousands of dollars in legal fees. A recent German court ruling denies her visitation rights before 2003, at which time it will be argued that her children would be traumatized by any contact.
Two recent cases are chilling. U.S. Army Maj. Andrew G. Andris, now serving in Germany, divorced his German wife seven years ago. He is now married to a British army sergeant, also serving in Germany. He has seen his children by his first marriage for one hour in the past seven years. Last week he was arrested at the Frankfurt airport and put in the maximum security prison in Weiterstadt as a "deadbeat dad." This was only one incident in a long history of harassment against him for trying to see his children.
In the other case, an American father from Texas whose son had been abducted by the German mother became so distraught he killed himself on Jan. 10.
I'm calling a spade a spade: The German courts who are defying an international treaty to which Germany is a signatory are racists. That's the only reasonable explanation behind the bizarre justification that children seeing their non-German parents would be too traumatic.