Federal Judge to Rule on Whether Boy Should Return to Italy After Mother’s Death
Supreme Court Case Sparks Calls for Legal Reform to Protect Domestic Violence Victims
After a legal battle that reached the Supreme Court earlier this year, a judge must decide whether a six-year-old boy should be returned to Italy to live with his father, Isacco Jacky Saada, who admitted to abusing the child’s mother, now deceased. The decision will determine if Narkis Golan’s son, who has allegedly returned from visits with his father with bruises, can remain with his mother’s family in Brooklyn or if he will return to his hometown of Milan.
The Hague Convention, an international treaty adopted by over 100 countries including the United States, allows judges to reject requests for a minor’s return to a country where they may face harm. In 73% of Hague cases filed by parents in 2015, the parents were mothers fleeing domestic violence.
Domestic Violence Experts Highlight Mothers’ Plight in Hague Abduction Cases
The case is a window into the reality of mothers worldwide who flee with their children from abusive partners to another country only to later be charged with kidnapping under the child abduction clauses of the Hague Convention. Experts estimate that in most cases, the mothers are fleeing domestic violence.
“As written, the text does not understand the idea that mothers flee to protect their children from physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in the country of residence,” said Lynn Hecht Schafran, Vice President of Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense organization.
Death of Boy’s Mother Complicates Case
Golan fled Italy with her son to the United States, where he was born, in 2018 after Saada physically and verbally assaulted her and threatened to kill her. Saada, who denied causing harm to the boy, later asked a court to return the child to Italy.
Golan died in her Brooklyn apartment in October 2022. Although Golan’s family raised questions surrounding her death, investigations found no evidence of foul play or criminality.
Bruises, Insults, and Confusion Cloud Father’s Visits with Son
Morin Golan, Narkis’s sister, now has custody of the child. According to court documents, after recent visits with his father, the boy returned to his aunt’s house with bruises including on his leg and arm in the shape of three fingers.
The boy’s autism and traumatic disorders make it difficult for him to communicate about his bruises or behavior during visits with his father. Allegations include the boy not being allowed to talk about his mother and being afraid to bring a stuffed animal that plays a recording of her voice to visits for fear of getting into trouble.
Father Denies Causing Bruises, Allegations
Saada denies causing the recent bruises and allegations that he made derogatory comments about Golan’s family or told his son they would never see them again. Saada’s lawyers claim the boy recently told his father that his mother had mistreated him.
The judge has ordered an autism specialist to evaluate the boy’s condition before ruling on whether he will return to Milan.
Judge Orders Return of Autistic Child to Italy Despite Domestic Violence Concerns
A New York judge has ordered the return of an autistic child to Italy despite concerns of domestic violence, which could lead to the child being placed in a group home for years after being separated from his family. The Hague Convention requires the return of children under certain circumstances and has come under increasing scrutiny for putting women and children fleeing domestic violence at risk.
Claims of Inappropriate Language And Declining Mental Health
According to Morin Golan’s lawyers, the father of the child visiting Italy, Dario Saada, uses “inappropriate and vulgar terms” during video calls that the boy now mimics, which coincide with behavioral changes, including defiance and aggression after visiting with his father.
Saada’s lawyers admit the father “may have used inappropriate language at times” but claim that he has instructed their son not to use profanity, emphasizing that English is not Saada’s native language. They also assert that the father did not “deny any need for therapy” and that allegations of mental health decline are baseless.
Intimate Partner Violence and Child Abuse
Experts emphasize the danger of overlooking domestic violence in cases involving the Hague Convention. Judge Donnelly’s decision to order the child’s return to Italy has brought this issue to the forefront. Professor Merle Weiner of the UC School of Law notes that many judges do not consider background or threats of domestic violence when deciding these cases.
Research shows that intimate partner violence can lead to child abuse. Nevertheless, some lawyers continue to claim that there is no direct evidence of violence against the child. Domestic violence affects the child’s emotional and physical well-being, which impacts their development and can restructure their brain.
Call for Reforms
Experts and advocates have been calling for changes to the Hague Convention to better protect women and children fleeing domestic violence. The United Nations has recommended changes in applying the Convention, requiring judges to account for family- and domestic-related violence when making custody orders.
The International Child Abduction Remedies Act enforces the treaty in the United States. Some lawmakers advocate for reform to require judges to recognize the threat of domestic abuse a child may face when returning to their country of origin. But some experts view these state changes as falling short, noting the need for wider-reaching reforms.
Growing Movement for Change
Before her death, Morin Golan joined advocates and experts in urging the Convention to better protect victims of intimate partner violence. Domestic violence can have a lasting impact on the child’s psychological well-being and overall development. Advocates and lawmakers continue to call for reforms to protect vulnerable women and children fleeing violence.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or the threat of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or go to www.thehotline.org.
A Safe Haven: Hotline.org for Domestic Violence Survivors
Hotline.org offers an anonymous and confidential chat option for those seeking assistance with domestic violence issues. Available in both English and Spanish, it provides a safe space for individuals to discuss their concerns without fear of judgment or retaliation.
While Hotline.org is a national resource, it’s important to note that many states have their own domestic violence hotlines as well. These hotlines typically offer localized support and resources for survivors in their area.
At the National Domestic Violence Hotline, trained advocates are available to receive calls from both survivors and individuals concerned about their own behavior. Their goal is to assist individuals in finding immediate safety and creating long-term plans to break the cycle of abuse.
Ending the Cycle of Abuse
Breaking the cycle of abuse is a complex process that requires support and resources. Hotline.org provides individuals with a safe, confidential space to discuss their concerns and connect with professional advocates who can assist them in creating a plan to find safety and create a brighter future for themselves and their loved ones.