Patricia M. Lee
Recently, I was asked during an interview, "Who would you hire as an attorney if I had to deal with another international abduction?"
My answer was a no-brainer. Patricia M. Lee of St. Petersburg, Florida. And I'm not even a Florida resident! But unquestionably, Ms. Lee would be the person I would seek out to guide me through whatever litigation I would need to take in order to get my child home.
Now you may ask yourself what makes Ms. Lee so qualified that she would be the person I would immediately turn to?
Obviously, in making a decision to hire an attorney in any matter, but in particular, when it comes to the complex, and often multi-jurisdictional issues of international parental child abduction prevention or reunification, there are certain qualities that all individuals seeking an attorney critically must look for.
First and foremost it is extremely important is to hire a lawyer who actually has significant knowledge of international family law and who has deep experience in child abduction prevention and reunification cases. Truth is, from my own experience and that of many other parents I interact with, the vast majority of competent family law practitioners do not possess international child custody experience which may inevitably present serious challenges for the targeted parent during court proceedings and litigation. The need to hire a highly experienced lawyer who has substantial experience in IPCA cases is magnified exponentially because - tragically - and according to various U.S. government reports including statements issued by the DOJ and the DOS- the vast majority of family court judges overseeing international child custody and potential abduction cases are not knowledgeable in the complexities of international jurisdiction, international treaties, and other policies that impact the ability of protecting a child at risk of either illegal international abduction or wrongful international detention of a child abroad.
As for Patricia M. Lee's experience, Ms. Lee's law practice evolves primarily around international family issues, including the Hague Convention on the International Aspects of Child Abduction and interstate parental kidnapping, as well as the enforcement and modification of foreign orders of support and property distribution. Ms. Lee's international experience includes cases involving international family law, and parental child abduction, support enforcement or modification, and ancillary probate matters from countries such as Belgium, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Columbia, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Guatemala.
In addition, Ms. Lee is involved with numerous charitable and legislative groups working to protect the welfare of children and to address domestic violence. Ms. Lee has handled client referrals in international kidnapping matters for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Child Watch, the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center, and for numerous United States Servicemen stationed abroad and/or with children of foreign nationals due to her experience in the international aspects of child abduction, the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, international and national relocation issues, the impact of immigration laws upon dissolution of marriage, the domestication, modification and enforcement of foreign custody and support orders, and other bi-national divorce issues.. She is also active in legislative reform to proactively prevent child abduction and human trafficking. She has been court appointed to represent the interests of children as a guardian ad litem in high conflict custody and abuse cases, and is currently undergoing additional training to represent the interests of abused children.
Clearly, it is critical when seeking an attorney to deal with international family law matters to hire a lawyer with vast experience such as Ms. Lee. However, knowledge in itself, though critical, may not be enough. And though the next criteria is subjective, I think it is critically important to pay attention to: the hiring of a lawyer who is kind-hearted, accountable, forthright, direct and honest. Speaking from my own experiences while being mindful of the countless conversations I have had with other targeted parents, one of the issues that always comes to surface is the accountability their lawyers have displayed.
What is so necessary in cases of IPCA is to hire a legal professional who not only is completely knowledgeable about the issues, but someone who you can work well with, someone who does what they say they are going to do, someone who does not let significant time pass before they return your call, someone who is tenacious and thorough in preparing and presenting all legal arguments, and someone who is honest with you.
I know it is easy for anyone to say they are honest and that they are going to do what they say they are going to do. However, in the case of Patricia M. Lee, this is exactly who she is. In fact, Patricia has is an active volunteer for the Community Law Program, and in 2009, was recognized with an annual award for her work on behalf of the poor in her community.
Recently, I have had the great fortune of working with Ms. Lee in our mutual advocacy to protect children from international child abduction. Our activity includes our advocacy for U.S. government lawmakers to implement additional child abduction prevention policies including the creation of a secondary non-departure list for U.S. citizens suspected of being high-risk child abductors. Additionally, we have sought for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative policy to be modified so that all individuals, including children, must present a valid passport when traveling abroad. In fact, Patricia M. Lee has co-created a White House petition site and has urged others to support the Government Accountability Office's recommendation to create a no-fly screening list for potential child abductors.
In a recent press release concerning new child abduction prevention laws and policies, Patricia M. Lee commented,, "The legal environment for parents whose children are at risk of abduction is daunting. To begin with, targeted parents are often not aware of the other parent's imminent plans to abduct their child. All too often local courts may not realize the complex issues involved in these types of cases, and the challenging legal remedies that a targeted or left behind parent faces in order to prevent or attempt to reunite with their child, not to mention the incredible financial burden. Present loopholes in existing laws and policies make it possible for children to be abducted internationally, despite injunctive relief or federal assistance under existing programs. I have to ask why American citizens should be treated differently than resident aliens when the risk of abduction is the same, if not greater, as we are addressing preventing abduction of children from or by parents resident in the United States. These parents most likely possess dual citizenship, or American citizenship documentation. The disparity in treatment of U.S. citizens and resident aliens certainly raises legitimate constitutional concerns, and more importantly, leaves gaping holes in the prevention system. I believe that the recommendations by the GAO are appropriate, timely and much needed. For example, without the creation of a secondary screening departure list established to prevent would-be abductors who possesses a United States passport and/or a secondary passport issued from another country, there are limited remedies available that could realistically prevent a child from being wrongfully taken abroad. What is needed is exactly what the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security are recommending: a preventive program that focuses on the point of departure that ensures that children who are not permitted to leave the country with a particular parent due to potential child abduction are unable to do so. This type of program would be of great benefit to at risk parents seeking to prevent child abduction by a dual national and/or American citizen parent. In our ever shrinking world, this is a very real threat that is not currently being addressed."
Ms. Lee is a sole practitioner maintaining her primary office in St. Petersburg, Florida. However, she is also of counsel to the international law firm of Urban Thier Federer & Chinnery, P.A., with offices in London and Manchester, England, Munich, Germany, and Orlando, Florida where she shares her knowledge and expertise in international family law matters.
The world of international parental child abduction prevention and reunification is a highly complex world to navigate. The reality is the odds to reunite with an abducted child are heavily stacked against a targeted parent. In order to level the playing field, it is important for targeted parents to hire competent legal counsel who has a demonstrated history litigating international family law matters.
For more information on Attorney Patricia M. Lee, please visit: http://www.thelawofficeofpatricialee.com/