Giulietta knows every song by Taylor Swift and can name all the Disney princesses. She’s partial to Anna and Elsa from Frozen®, though—a movie she first watched this year. Froot Loops® is her cereal of choice. She spends hours rolling out Play-Doh® and loves to jump and flip on the trampoline.
In many ways, Giulietta is a typical five-year-old. But she was also at the epicenter of one of the most heart-wrenching cases attorney Brian K. Pearlstein, managing partner at Brodsky, Renehan, Pearlstein, & Bouquet, has ever had in more than 25 years of practicing family law.
“For the clients’ sake, it’s important for me to maintain a healthy distance from the sometimes very emotional aspects of their case,” says Brian. “My job is to help them stay focused and grounded through these stressful experiences, so I work hard to be compassionate yet calm and collected.”
“In this case, however,” he smiles, “that all went out the window—on the inside, at least.”
Giulietta’s mother, Fanny, a French citizen, moved to the US in June of 2014 at the age of 19 to work as an au pair for a family in Potomac, Maryland. During her first year of employment, she met an American citizen, whom she later married after the couple discovered they were expecting Giulietta. Always tumultuous, the relationship turned even more violent after Giulietta was born in February of 2015. Believing her then-husband was working on acquiring citizenship for her, the family traveled to Mexico in October of 2015 to help with Fanny’s ailing father, and to try to get a fresh start on their failing relationship.
Instead of healing the troubled marriage, circumstances in Mexico led to increased tension and episodes of escalated violence, which worsened after Fanny’s father died. One November night in 2015, after yet another argument, Fanny’s then-husband took eight-month-old Giulietta back over the border from Mexico to the US, without Fanny’s knowledge or consent. Fanny, whose J-1 visa, allowing her to work temporarily under only very specific conditions in the US, had expired, was unable to follow.
Now, unable to gain entry into the US and her resources in Mexico exhausted, Fanny had no choice but to return to France in December of 2015. For the next six months, she tried unsuccessfully to work through the French court system to reunite with her daughter, but the French courts did not have jurisdiction to address the issues. She also reached out to the US Embassy in France for advice and support.
Looking back on it, Brian believes he was always meant to play a role in reuniting Fanny and Giulietta. During the first week in July of 2016, he heard about the case two separate times from two different sources. First, an old friend, an immigration attorney, called to ask him to consider taking a pro bono case that involved a young French citizen whose American husband had absconded with their daughter. Always inclined to do pro bono work as his schedule allowed, Brian’s heart went out to the young French mother and her child. He called his old friend back and agreed to take the case in July of 2016. The following month, Brian once again heard about the case while meeting with the Consular General at the French Embassy on an unrelated matter. At this point, there was no question about it. This was a mother and child who needed his help, and he was going to do everything in his power to reunite them.
— Continuing next week in Part 2: The Long Battle —