Linda Yaman, a U.S. Citizen, met her Turkish husband, Ismail Yaman, in the United States and they had one daughter in this country before moving to Turkey and having a second daughter. Linda became suspicious that Ismail was sexually abusing the girls and filed for divorce in Turkey. After conducting a review, the Turkish courts rejected the abuse claims and awarded Ismail full legal custody, with visitation to Linda. Linda, refusing to accept the court’s decision, absconded with the two girls — first to Europe and ultimately to New Hampshire. The case had attracted a wide degree of media attention including an episode of Dateline, and a law review article.
Ismail eventually found out where Linda and girls were and filed in U.S. Federal Court to enforce the Turkish custody decision and have the girls returned to him. The Federal Courts eventually concluded that Linda could not prove Ismail abused the girls, and sent the case to the New Hampshire Family Court to decide whether the girls must be returned to their father in Turkey. The Family Court decided that the Turkish order must be enforced and the case was appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Today, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed that decision.
The heart of today’s decision revolves around by what is known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This Act, which has been adopted as law by nearly every state, is designed to prevent contradictory custody orders among different states. It effectively dictates that one state’s custody decision should be respected and enforced by courts in different states, except for under limited circumstances. In this case, the UCCJEA was also used to determine whether New Hampshire must respect a foreign country’s court order. Enforcement of another country’s custody decision is required unless doing so would “violate fundamental principles of human rights,” which is what Linda’s lawyers argued would happen if the Turkish order was enforced.
In examining the history of the Turkish court hearings, however, the Supreme Court agreed with the Circuit Court that while the Turkish courts did not employe the same type of procedures that courts in this country use, the substantive law was not so unjust as to allow our courts to refuse to enforce the Turkish custody order. The Supreme Court did not look at what is in the best interest of the children, which it found was the responsibility of the Turkish Court.
This decision is highly controversial and it will not be surprising if there are further attempts by Linda to appeal or have it reconsidered. The case highlights a frequent balancing act in child custody law — when should one state or country defer to the decisions of another state or country rather than making its own decision. On the one hand, the law puts an emphasis on the sovereignty of the courts in other jurisdictions. On the other hand, a decision from another country that is so out of line with our principles should not be enforced. Here, the Supreme Court concluded that the Turkish decision did not cross that line and therefore it must be respected. There is no doubt that much discussion will follow.