International Parental Child Abduction

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FAQ: Hague Convention Attorney Network

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What is the Hague Convention Attorney Network?

It is an all-volunteer national attorney network maintained by the U.S. Department of State.  The U.S. Department of State serves as the U.S. Central Authority for the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Convention).  Network attorneys represent applicant-parents in incoming Hague Convention return and access cases in the United States on a pro bono or reduced fee basis.

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How do I join the Attorney Network?

It’s simple. Send us your enrollment form. You must be licensed to practice law in your State(s), in good standing, and actively practicing in the United States. 

No previous Hague Child Abduction Convention experience is required. Mentor attorneys are available.

Lawyers practicing abroad may wish to contact the U.S. Embassy in their countries to inquire about including their names on the Embassy-maintained Attorney List. Visit  http://www.usembassy.gov for a list of U.S. embassies and consulates.

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Can a Legal Services Corporation grantee (“LSC grantee”) or other legal aid organization participate in the Attorney Network?

Absolutely! We welcome participation by all legal aid providers. 

LSC grantees have statutory and regulatory authority to represent qualified indigent foreign nationals, including those residing abroad, in Hague Convention cases brought in United States courts. This was stated in a November 30, 2011 memorandum from LSC President James J. Sandman to all LSC grantees. The applicable regulation is found at 45 C.F.R. § 1626.10(e) [Special eligibility questions].

We have found it very helpful to have a statewide LSC liaison to assist in identifying geographically-appropriate offices for particular cases.  We also invite individual LSC attorneys to join the Network.

 

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Is there anything I can do to learn more about the Hague Child Abduction Convention (“Convention”) before my first case or to support me while handling a case?

Numerous resources about the Convention are on our website, childabduction.state.gov.  In particular, click the link “For Attorneys.”  These include the texts of the Convention and implementing statute and a litigation manual.

Attorney mentors are also available upon request.  The service is provided free of charge in pro bono cases.  The mentor may charge a consulting fee in reduced fee and full fee cases.

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Is my information listed online somewhere or is it just provided to potential clients?

It is not posted online. 

We contact private attorneys in the Network directly, by e-mail, when we receive a Hague Convention return or access application about a child in your geographic area.  In that first communication, we ask if you are interested in speaking to the applicant about possibly taking his/her case.  If so, your name, often along with the name of at least one other attorney, is sent to the applicant.  When we send the applicant your name, we also send you the applicant’s name and other information to prepare you for a possible call.  

For contacting LSC offices in states where no statewide liaison is designated, we typically send a letter to the LSC office proximate to the child, notifying the office about the case and the possibility that the applicant may call to inquire about legal representation.  We inform applicants and foreign governments that the applicant’s eligibility for services are determined in accordance with LSC program guidelines.  If we are aware that a statewide LSC liaison is designated in the relevant geographic area, we communicate directly with the liaison for assistance in identifying the appropriate office/contact. 

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Does agreeing to be on an attorney list obligate me to take a case?

No.  When you agree to have your name included on an attorney list for the applicant, you indicate a willingness to consider representing the applicant on a pro bono or reduced fee basis.  Upon receipt of the list, the applicant, if he/she so chooses, will contact you directly to discuss the facts of the case and the possibility of your representation.  There is no obligation on your part to take the case.  If you do so, it is as a private attorney, and not a representative or agent of the Department of State.

After the initial communication with the applicant, attorneys needing more information to inform their representation decision may contact the Legal Assistance Coordinator to request the Hague application and supporting documents.

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Do I need an engagement letter if I am taking the case pro bono or for reduced fees?

Attorneys follow their usual practice regarding engagement/retainer agreements.  The U.S. Department of State plays no role in determining whether and how attorneys choose to represent a client.

If you use an engagement letter, it may be helpful if the engagement letter sets forth the scope of services (e.g., trial? appeal? custody case?).  In pro bono cases, it may be helpful if the engagement agreement clearly states that legal services are provided free of charge.  (Pro bono attorneys sometimes indicate their usual hourly fees in order to facilitate recovery of attorney fees at the conclusion of a successful case.)  

You may also find it helpful to consider specifying in the engagement letter who is responsible to pay court costs and related fees.  We inform Hague applicants that they should expect to pay these expenses even in a pro bono case, but this is up to the attorney and client to discuss and agree.

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Do you know the reduced hourly rate attorneys normally charge for these cases?

The State Department does not set hourly rates.  Attorneys set their own rates.  We inform applicants that hourly rates in reduced fee cases may fall into the range of $50-150 per hour. However, we recognize that these rates may be low in some areas.  We also inform applicants that legal fees may be negotiable.

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Who determines eligibility for pro bono or reduced fee services?

Applicants assess their own eligibility for pro bono or reduced fee legal services by reference to two tables that we provide on the legal assistance request form.  We use Legal Services Corporation income guidelines (45 CFR Part 1611), which are based on U.S. poverty guidelines.  The table used to determine eligibility for pro bonorepresentation is based on 125% of U.S. poverty guidelines.  The table used to determine eligibility to request reduced fee legal assistance is based on 200% of U.S. poverty guidelines.

We do not require applicants to submit financial documentation to support their requests. However, we inform applicants that attorneys are free to ask applicants about their financial situation (e.g., proof of income, employment, assets) to inform decisions about whether to take the case pro bono, or for reduced or full fees.  We appreciate that many attorneys will make further inquiries to ensure that pro bono services are being offered in appropriate cases.

We further inform applicants that Legal Service Corporation grantees and other legal aid organizations determine eligibility for services based on their own program guidelines. 

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Do attorneys in the Hague Convention Attorney Network ever get full fee referrals?

Yes.  Hague Convention applicants may use the legal assistance request form to ask for a list of full fee attorneys, which we provide.  We notify Hague Convention Network attorneys when they have been included on full fee lists.  Please note:  Attorneys must volunteer for pro bono and/ or reduced fee cases in order to participate in the Hague Convention Attorney Network.

Additionally, Hague Convention Network attorneys may also be included on full fee attorney referral lists for respondents in incoming Hague Convention cases, as well as for incoming non-Hague Convention and prevention cases.

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What is my relationship to the State Department as a member of the Attorney Network?

Please be advised that attorneys for applicants in no way act as agents of the Department of State.  You are therefore requested to neither state nor imply that you represent or are retained by the Department of State.  Terms of representation and decisions regarding the objectives and means of representation are matters exclusively between attorney and client.  The attorney-client relationship is private.

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Are mentor attorneys available to help inexperienced/less experienced Hague practitioners?

Yes.  Attorney mentors are available to offer case-specific guidance to members of the Hague Convention Attorney Network.  If you take a case, upon your request, we will put you in touch with an experienced Hague attorney in your area.  Mentor attorneys do not typically charge a consulting fee in pro bono cases.  They may request a consulting fee in reduced fee cases.  Whether to charge a fee, and the amount, is at the mentor's discretion.

You may also contact the Legal Assistance Coordinators for general technical assistance with the Convention.  Please be advised that we cannot offer any legal advice, nor can we give any guidance regarding the specifics of a particular case.

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Is it true that Hague Convention cases can be filed in federal or state court?

Yes.  The International Child Abduction Remedies Act (“ICARA”), the federal implementing statute for the Hague Convention, expressly confers concurrent jurisdiction on state and federal courts.  42 U.S.C. 11603(a).  In practice, access cases are brought in state courts, whereas return cases may be filed in either federal or state court.  This is a threshold strategic decision for the attorney representing the petitioner in a Hague Convention return case.

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Are translation services available?

Telephone interpretation services, generally referred to as the “language line,” are available to facilitate telephone conversations between attorneys (prospective and retained) and Hague applicants.  This “language line” service is free of charge to the attorney and applicant.  The State Department country officer monitoring the case can facilitate access to the language line. 

The State Department does not provide document translation services.

When cases go to trial, some courts may arrange for interpretation services. 

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Can I recover attorney fees?

Potentially, yes.  Article 26 of the Convention and § 11607(b)(3) of the International Child Abduction Remedies Act provide for the ability to recover legal and other costs.  Prevailing petitioners in return cases may recover under both; prevailing petitioners in access cases may recover under the Convention. 

Pro bono attorneys may recover attorney fees. See Cuellar v. Joyce,603 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 2010).   

Legal aid attorney may recover attorney fees.  See Saldivar v. Rodela, 894 F. Supp.2d916 (W.D. Tex.2012)

Attorney fees may also be recovered under state law.   Please see the next question.

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If the State Department contacts me about a Hague Convention case and I agree to represent the applicant, can I pursue alternative remedies?

Yes.  The Hague Convention remedy is non-exclusive and state law may offer other means of achieving the client’s objectives.  Alternative remedies are discussed in  For Attorneys and Getting Your Custody Order Recognized and Enforced in the U.S.

Note: fees may also be recovered in custody/visitation enforcement proceedings brought under state law, § 312 of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.  

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Is mediation an option in Hague Convention cases?

Yes.  Be aware of critical dates and the need to preserve your client’s rights under the Convention, particularly in return cases.  Also keep in mind that your client should understand the legal effect of any mediated agreement in both countries before signing it.

Information about a pilot mediation project is available from the Legal Assistance Coordinator.

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Is there any type of networking event for attorneys in the Network?

You may at some point receive an invitation from the Legal Assistance Coordinator to a local Attorney Network gathering.  There is no set schedule.  These informal ‘meet and greet’ events are often coupled with CLE programs about the Convention.

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When I respond to the HagueConventionAttorneyNetwork@state.gov e-mail address, does my letter go to everyone in the Attorney Network?

No.  Only the U.S. Department of State has access to that mailbox.  It is generally monitored by the Legal Assistance Coordinator.

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Does the State Department take a position on behalf of the applicant (or respondent) in Hague cases?

No.  The State Department is neutral.  Our goal for the legal assistance program is to assist requesting parents find legal representation so that their cases can be heard in court.  We thank you for your role in that process.

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Who can answer questions about the Hague Convention Attorney Network?

Please e-mail the Legal Assistance Coordinator at: HagueConventionAttorneyNetwork@state.gov