Making headlines this week is the case of Paul Eksteen, a Morris County father caught up in an international child custody dispute with his ex-wife, Rosita Berdichevsky. In November 2013, Berdichevsky left the country with the couple’s son and relocated to her home country of Paraguay, despite a NJ court order calling for her to surrender the child’s passport. After attempting for over a year to convince Berdichevsky to return with their son to New Jersey and settle their matter in a U.S. court, Eksteen filed criminal charges against Berdichevsky on February 12, 2015, accusing his former wife of kidnapping, criminal restraint and interference with custody.
According to an investigative news piece reported in yesterday’s Daily Record, Eksteen said that he only filed the criminal charges in Washington Township Municipal Court against Berdichevsky after his efforts to work through the U.S. State Department and the Hague Convention failed.
Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group’s Bari Weinberger, who served as legal expert for the Daily Record piece and accompanying news video, was asked to offer her perspective on Eksteen’s legal plight and his experience with the Hague Convention, a multilateral treaty whereby the United States has a reciprocal pact to return abducted children with some 73 other member countries – including Paraguay. The Hague Convention is the primary civil law mechanism for parents seeking the return of their children from other treaty partner countries.
As Bari explained, the Hague Convention prescribes that custody issues be argued and resolved in the country of “habitual residence” of the child. Habitual residence refers to the place where the child usually lives. In Eksteen’s case, at the time his 9-year-old son left the U.S., he had resided in New Jersey for two full years. (Eksteen’s son is also a native-born U.S. citizen.)
Once habitual residence is determined, appropriate courts in the local area are then responsible for making a ruling on custody. “The purpose of the Hague Convention is not to rule on which parent gets custody, but rather in which jurisdiction custody issues should be examined and resolved,” Bari noted.
According to the Daily Record, Eksteen received a text from his former wife in January informing him that a judge in Paraguay ruled in her favor. He was unaware that a hearing was even slated to take place.
“I was hoping we could work things out amicably through the Hague process, but I was left completely out of the loop. I didn’t even know that the hearing was taking place on December 30 in Paraguay,” Eksteen told the newspaper.
Until this latest development, Eksteen had attempted to represent himself (pro-se) in his case. Due the complexities of international law and other issues, such as language barriers, Bari Weinberger outlined that in Eksteen’s next steps in trying to return his son to the United States, it is highliy advisable to enlist legal help.
“If litigants decide to go it alone and self-represent, they should at least work with an attorney to strategize what tasks they should handle on their own and what aspects of the case are critical to be addressed by counsel to maximize results and at the same time streamline fees. The stakes are high since any mistake can cost a parent their child,” she confirms.
We will keep you posted as new developments arise in this case. If you are a parent dealing with international custody issues, please contact us to schedule an initial attorney consultation to discuss your custody matter in-depth.