Friday, December 17, 2010

Welfare of the children should come first: Don't ship them out of the country to live with an abusive father (Montreal, Canada)

As editorials go, this is a mixed bag.

First, the negatives: It's very easy (as this editorial does) to fall into a "false balance" trap--that somehow both parties in a so-called grievance must be equally guilty in some way. Actually, this is a very big presumption, and should not be taken for granted unless the evidence actually backs that up. I have seen nothing about this case to suggest that both parents were somehow at fault in this matter, that both were "at war" with the children merely being "part of a battlefield." I think that assumption really trivializes what was at stake in this case--and unfortunately, the evidence (too late to save the son's life) has backed up the mother's story entirely. And that is that dad PREDRAG PIRISIC really was an abusive, controlling, and violent man. And that the children needed to be protected from him.

And here are the positives: I absolutely agree that Judge Helene Le Bel failed these children miserably. The "best of interest of the child" was totally ignored in this case. These children--who were far from toddlers and really not that "relatively young"--made it absolutely clear that they wanted to stay with their mother and that they did not feel "safe" with their father in Texas. And this judge chose to totally ignored past evidence of abuse by discounting the testimony of the mother and children. Instead, the killer dad is lauded as a "good father." And we now see the results of the judge's fathers rights sympathies: One child dead, the other hospitalized with eight gunshot wounds.

Welfare of the children should always come first

Deyan Perisic is dead at age 10 and his 12-year-old sister, Danyela, lies injured in a Texas hospital. No one, in the face of these facts, can pretend that the best interests of these two children prevailed once the state was forced to get involved in their lives.

The Gazette December 17, 2010

Brought up, by some accounts, by parents who were essentially at war with one another, the children had been part of the battlefield for some time. Their father, Predrag Perisic, 55, was insisting they live with him in Texas. Their mother, Vera Vucerakovich, 46, wanted them back in Montreal, where they had been born and raised.

Perisic, a Canadian citizen now charged in the death of his son and the attempted murder of his daughter, moved to Texas in 2007, hoping to find work. Vucerakovich and the two children joined him there, staying with him from August of last year until Jan. 1 this year.

The couple's attempt to salvage their marriage and their family life foundered after 137 days, according to Jonathan Shulak, the Montreal lawyer for Vucerakovich.

The children's fate ultimately hinged on that detail: that they spent 137 days in Texas with their father before their mother took them back to Quebec.

When the courts -and other state agencies such as police forces and protection agencies -come up against the often intractable problems of family breakdown and custody battles, the doctrine of "best interests of the child" is supposed to prevail.

Simple-sounding in theory, the doctrine is not always easy to apply. Testifying before Quebec Superior Court Judge Helene Le Bel, the children said that they did not want to return to Texas. They said their preference was to remain in Quebec, with their mother. They did not feel "safe" in Texas, they said.

But Le Bel's April 16 ruling says that from all the testimony she received she found that while Perisic might not be perfect, he was a good father with love and concern for the children and that there was no evidence of violence or abuse.

She ruled that, under the terms of The Hague Conventions governing international custody cases, the children were to be returned to Texas because that was their most recent place of residence.

But surely their stated wishes, even at their relatively young age, could have been taken into greater account. The point of a convention like The Hague is to require through its myriad clauses that the courts carefully assess the situation and the needs of the children involved in an international custody dispute. It seems unlikely the The Hague Conventions were designed to impose rigid solutions on highly fluid situations.

"In the best interests of the child" is not an empty phrase. It is meant to remind the courts, police and parents that children are not pawns or packages. If they wanted to stay in Quebec, with their mother, that should have counted for more than it did.

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