Claude Dary last held his son Rowan in his arms in February of 2018. He says his estranged girlfriend suddenly stopped taking his calls and within a week, she had taken the boy from her apartment in Manhattan to her native Kenya.
“Without my knowledge or consent, she just upped and left and won’t bring him back. I thought laws would prevent something like that from happening,” Dary said.
Dary filed papers requesting custody. Family court documents show that in May, a Manhattan Family Court judge ruled that the mother should return the child to Manhattan but the decision was stayed after her attorney appealed.
The attorney did not respond to repeated inquiries from the I-Team and the child’s mother hung up the phone. A hearing is now scheduled for late January.
“This will be the second holiday (season) where I won’t see my son,” he said. “It seems like they don’t value my rights as a father the same way they would for a mother, and that’s upsetting for me.”
“Once he was born, that was it. I was in his life and I was going to stay in his life,” he said.
Dary said he reached out to the State Department and the Kenyan Embassy. In a letter, the State Department said, “Kenya is not a signatory to the 1990 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Abduction Convention). Thus, the Hague Abduction Convention is not an available mechanism to facilitate Rowan’s return.”
Sonya Witt, a family court attorney, said there is a common misconception that both parents need permission for one to take a child out of the country.
“They don’t need a court’s permission unless there is already an order for custody and visitation,” she said, adding, “And there are no exit controls at the airport.”
Witt suggested that parents go to court immediately if they feel the former partner may take the child.
“You don’t need a lawyer. Anyone can go to family court and file an emergency motion. It’s known as an Order to Show Cause. You can often get in front of a judge the same day and ask for the court to issue an order that says the child should not be taken out of the country,” she said. Witt added that it’s important to ask for specific travel restriction language.
Dr. Noelle Hunter is the co-founder of a support network, iStand Parent Network. Their stated mission at istandParentNetwork.com is to help parents whose children have been internationally abducted.
“I’m a mom whose daughter was internationally parentally kidnapped by my ex-husband from Kentucky in 2011 and taken to Mali, West Africa. It took me two and a half years and Congressional help to bring her home,” she said.
Hunter said her organization works with local police and courts to get return orders and to provide guidance on how to work with the State Department and Congressional representatives.
“Many people have this unrealistic expectation that once I tell the government that my child is taken, they’re going to do everything they can. That’s not reality,” she said.
The State Department has a specific website on international custody. They will enter the child’s information into the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP).
On November 6th, Claude Dary and his family celebrated Rowan’s second birthday without him in the family’s East Flatbush apartment. They hoped to video chat with the boy. His mother did not pick up the phone.
Dary broke down in sobs as he read a letter he sent to Rowan.
“I just want to see my son and be a part of his life,” he said.