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Leland Law Firm is committed
to serving families when legal solutions are needed to help tackle and resolve the challenges that
face us all.

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(732) 409-7777

 

Mary Jane Leland, Esq.
Leland Law Firm, LLC
Ellis Law Center
87 South Street
Freehold, New Jersey 07728
Phone: (732) 409-7777
Fax: (732) 409-7772
mjleland@lelandlawfirm.com

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January 21, 2011

On January 20, 2011, Mary Jane was appointed to the board of Celebrate NJ, http://www.celebratenj.org/, a non-profit that provides supplemental classroom initiatives for students in grades 3 to 8.  The programs engage students in activities that connect them to each other around the state, to the world around them and to their own dreams.  The organization also encourages an appreciation of our State and its accomplishments, e.g., the place where our country's freedom was won and where electric lights first illuminated the world.  Celebrate NJ believes that understanding what came before us encourages a vision of what may lie ahead and our role in shaping it.  Located in Freehold, NJ the organization is headed by a volunteer board and its activities are directed by Karen Hatcher, Executive Director.  It is staffed by volunteers and interns from Rutgers University. 

December 15, 2009

Signed on October 25, 1980, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Abduction is an international treaty, the main purpose of which is to set forth a mechanism to have children returned to the country where they had been abducted from. Signatory nations have an obligation to return a child to his or her “habitual residence” once such a residence has been established, and that it has been confirmed that the child was wrongfully taken from it. According to Article 1 of the treaty, “The objects of the present Convention are: a) to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any Contracting State; and b) to ensure that rights of custody and of access under the law of one Contracting State are effectively respected in the other Contracting States.”

Each signatory nation is required to create a “Central Authority” to handle and expedite child custody claims. And, these Central Authorities are expected to work together to help accomplish the dual goals established in Article 1. Once a Central Authority finds that a sister nation did, in fact, grant custody to another parent, it is required to expedite the return of a child to that particular country. At the present, 81 nations have signed the treaty. Japan, however, is not one of those nations And, the perils of such a reality is not more readily apparent to anyone than Christopher Savoie, whose ex-wife, Nariko, abducted their two children in January 2009 and brought them back to Japan.

For seven years, the Savoies had lived together in Japan. Last February, they moved to Tennessee, but the marriage soured soon after, and they divorced. In January of this year, Nariko took their two young children to Japan, with a court’s permission, to Japan for a vacation. However, she never returned to America, which she was required to do. Because of this, Mr. Savoie was granted sole custody of their two children. If Japan were a party to the treaty, Mr. Savoie could have quickly filed a petition with Japan’s Central Authority, and the matter would have been handled judicially. However, since Japan is not a member of the treaty, Mr. Savoie did not possess any this legal recourse to regain custody of his children. After exhausting legal channels and political contacts, he flew to Japan and took matters in his own hands. On one particular day, he tried to take his children to the American consulate as they were walking home from school. As he ran with daughter in his arms and his son ran alongside them, Mr. Savoie was arrested by Japanese police before he and his children could reach the consulate. And, he was imprisoned for over two weeks.

While Mr. Savoie was eventually released, this crisis exemplifies the need for Japan and other nations to immediately become signatories to the treaty. Too many people see Japan and other nations as safe havens for child abduction. According to a 2005 Japanese report, in 80 percent of custody cases, the child’s mother was awarded sole custody. Such a reality coupled with Japan’s refusal to adopt the treaty makes it extremely difficult for non-Japanese fathers to regain custody of their children when they are taken to Japan. Although some signatory countries, like Brazil and Spain, have not always followed the procedures set forth in the convention, the majority of nations properly and judiciously try to enforce the treaty. We hope the Japanese government signs on to the treaty!

December 15, 2009

On March 10, 2009, the Superior Court of NJ, Appellate Division, broke new ground in the area of pet custody law. The case involved a dispute between Doreen Houseman and Eric Dale, a couple that had lived together for thirteen years. Doreen and Eric both loved Dexter, an adorable pug dog. Each of the parties wanted custody of Dex. Both parties had contributed financially toward purchasing and maintaining him. But when Ms. Houseman left the residence, she took Dexter with her. When she wanted to go on a vacation, she left the dog with her former boyfriend, Mr. Dale. When Ms. Houseman returned, Mr. Dale refused to give Dexter back. Ms. Houseman sought relief from the Court, asking for specific performance, that is, for Mr. Dale to give the dog back! (Specific performance is an equitable remedy which is ordered when monetary compensation can not adequately compensate the plaintiff.) For anyone who knew Dexter or who loves dogs, it is “a given” that you cannot put a price on a dog.

In the lower court, Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Tomasello awarded Ms. Houseman $1,500.00 (the full purchase price of the dog), but gave custody of the dog to Mr. Dale. Judge Tomasello held that since the dog is deemed to be property (like furniture) under the law, the supposed oral agreement could not be enforced. In so doing, Judge Tomasello denied Ms. Houseman’s request for an Order from the Court to return Dexter to her. She appealed. The Appellate court overturned the lower Court’s monetary award to Ms. Houseman and its custody decision that had favored Mr. Dale.

In the landmark decision, authored by Judge Jane Grall, the Appellate Division first looked at the underlying facts and procedural history of the case. Ms. Houseman contended that the parties had struck an oral agreement that she would gain custody of the dog. Then, the court delved into the main issue of the case: whether giving a person custody over a pet is a proper remedy of specific performance. In its opinion, while it rejected the ability of a court to rule on the “best interests” of a pet, the Appellate Division saw no reason why the doctrine of specific performance could not be applied. It cited previous case law that had established that some people reasonably place “special subjective importance” on a pet, just like many do with certain inanimate objects such as family heirlooms. The Appellate Court rejected the lower Court’s ruling that “specific performance is not, as a matter of law, available to remedy a breach of an oral agreement about possession of a dog…” Instead, it found that as long as a judge reasonably believes that an oral agreement had been made, and a party has demonstrated a “sincere affection for and attachment to it [a pet],” then such an agreement can be enforced in court. And, on remand, Judge Tomasello awarded joint custody of the dog to Ms. Houseman and Eric Dale, respectively. Each person has custody of the dog for five continuous weeks.

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