An Unexpected Journey to Reunification—Part 2: The Long Battle

Brian K. Pearlstein, managing partner at Brodsky, Renehan, Pearlstein, & Bouquet, made a commitment to Fanny and Giulietta, a mother and daughter separated by a complicated matter of US citizenship, and he planned on honoring it. He offered to help with their situation, which was a slow but steady crawl toward building a case that would ultimately reunite Fanny and Giulietta. In the process, Fanny’s three applications for a US travel visa were rejected. Three custody/divorce hearings in September of 2017, July of 2018, and January of 2019 were postponed, due to Giulietta’s father’s lack of timely responses to the divorce/custody complaints and Fanny’s continued inability to secure a visa to re-enter the country. Within days of the end of 2018, the trial was postponed again and rescheduled for August 5, 2019. With the firm’s help, Fanny continued to work toward securing a visa to re-enter the country.

On July 3, 2019, the effort to reunite Giulietta got more traction. Giulietta had been living with her father, his girlfriend, and their child—apparently in another unsafe situation. After a report to Child Welfare Services, the children were removed from the home and placed in foster care by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. A child in need of assistance (CINA) case was initiated.

By this time, Brian’s associate, Samantha H. Pollin, was heavily involved in the case. “The court will find a “child in need of assistance” if the Department of Social Services can prove that child’s parents, guardian, or custodian do not give proper care and attention to the child’s needs or that the child has been abused or neglected,” explains Samantha. “The court’s goal in a CINA case is to achieve a permanent placement for the child that is consistent with the child’s best interests.”

The law is designed to separate a child from his or her parents only when it is necessary for the child’s welfare, Samantha continues. It was important to Giulietta’ s case, she says, that she not be found to be a child in need of assistance, because she had a parent—although absent through no fault of her own—who was ready, willing, and able to assume her care.

A pretrial hearing/mediation in the CINA proceeding was scheduled for July 22, 2019. Brian and Samantha prepared a Consent Custody Order that they were able to get Giuletta’s father to sign at the mediation session, and obtained an Order that Fanny could testify by phone in the divorce proceeding, scheduled for August 5, 2019. Additionally, Samantha was able to get an Order that the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to transport Giuletta to the Department of State, so that Brian and Samantha could get a passport for Giuletta in the hopes that she would be traveling and reunited with Fanny in France. An appointment with the State Department was scheduled for August 2, 2019.

However, notwithstanding the Consent Custody Order, Fanny would still need the Circuit Court, at the CINA hearing on August 6, 2019, to make a determination that Giuletta was not a child in need of assistance and that Fanny was ready, willing, and able to take care and custody of Giuletta in order for the child to be returned to her mother.

As the August trial date drew near, Fanny was still without a visa. Should the firm be successful in obtaining a ruling that would return Giulietta to her mother, an alternate plan for the reunion would need to be devised. Giulietta’s American legal team set plans in motion that would allow her to rendezvous with her mother in Montreal, Canada, should the judge rule in their favor. The hope was that Fanny would be able to get authorization to travel to Montreal to be reunited with her daughter. Initially, Brian acquired authorization from Fanny to obtain a passport for Giulietta and to travel with her to Canada. On August 2, after he, Samantha, and Giulietta spent most of the day at the State Department, the application was submitted for the passport, to be picked up on August 7, 2019.

On Monday, August 5, 2019, Samantha appeared in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, and with the telephone testimony of Fanny, obtained a decree of divorce and custody for Fanny.

On Tuesday, August 6, 2019, the CINA proceeding was held. Fanny testified via telephone from her home in Epernay, France. On the strength of her testimony and the recommendations of the majority of professionals involved in her case, the outcome appeared certain: Giulietta would shortly be reunited with Fanny. But before the gavel could fall, the attorney for the Department of Health and Human Services had a question for Brian, who had been called as a witness by Fanny’s CINA attorney: If the court found that Giulietta was not a child in need of assistance, she would be released from foster care immediately. With the mother in France, where was she supposed to go?

With confidence he didn’t entirely feel, Brian spoke up.

“My house, Your Honor,” he said. “Giulietta will be coming home with me.”

— Continuing next week in Part 3: Reunion —

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