CHRISTIANE'S STORY

The Legal Chronology
Return to Germany and a new job

In June 1995, Christiane's husband, along with his mother, abducted her two little girls, Carmen and Claire, from Germany to the United States. In September 1995, Christiane applied for the return of her children under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For two and a half years, from June 1995 until November 1997, Christiane searched for her girls. In March 1997, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent a fax to the German Central Authority stating that "we remain committed to searching for Mr. Lops and the children. However, without new information suggesting their presence in the United States, we cannot keep the file active". In July 1997, acting on the fax sent by the NCMEC and knowing that the children's Grandmother lived near Augusta, Georgia, the Committee for Missing Children contacted Mr. Bill Bowcutt in the District Attorney's Office in Augusta, Georgia. We asked Mr. Bowcutt for his assistance in locating Christiane's children.

With the help of the District Attorney's office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement in both Georgia and South Carolina, the children were found within 72 hours, living in North Augusta, South Carolina. For several days the GBI followed the children back and forth between their home in South Carolina and their Grandmother's house in Georgia. The children were eventually picked up at their Grandmother's house after coming home from school. They were enrolled in Catholic school in their own names. The children had been in the United States since June 1995. The children were recovered on November 5, 1997, and by the order of the courts, placed in the custody of the Department of Family and Children's Services (DFACS).

Once the children had been recovered, I was asked by Ken Morgan with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to contact Christiane and tell her they had located her girls and that they had been placed under the protection of the courts. Christiane was in the United States the following evening. I picked Christiane up at the airport and told her Karen and I would like for her to stay with us while the courts decided on the children's return under the articles of the Hague Treaty. We all thought that the decision to return the children should take no longer than five to ten days. How wrong we were.

Below are a few pictures taken of the girls and their mother while the girls were in DFACS, November 5, 1997 through December 22, 1997. As you can see they adapted very well to their mother after being away from her for two and a half years. The Committee for Missing Children has long held that the one-year "settled in" (Article 12 of the Hague Convention) is arbitrary, and has led to the non-return of children in violation of the spirit of the Treaty. Christiane's children adapted to her within hours. We strongly recommend that all judges read a copy of the "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" issued by Judge Bowen. He addressed the subject of "settled in" in depth. You will find a copy of his opinion below.

 


The Legal Chronology

The case first went to Judge Robert Allgood in the Superior Court of Columbia County, State of Georgia. After an evidentiary hearing on November 14, 1997, Judge Allgood issued an order transferring the case to Family Court in Aiken, South Carolina. Judge Allgood felt he did not have jurisdiction because the children lived in North Augusta, South Carolina. However the children were located in Georgia, giving Judge Allgood authority to accept jurisdiction under both ICARA and the Treaty. This single determination on the part of Judge Allgood would trap Christiane and her children in the United State for more than six months.

On November 26, 1997 Christiane's Attorneys, Linda Shay Gardner, Daniel Butler, and John Creson appeared before Judge Peter R. Nuessle in the Family Court, State of South Carolina, County of Aiken. After hearing from the attorneys, Judge Nuessle determined that "based on the arguments presented to me and the law, I find that there should be an evidentiary hearing to determine weather there has been a wrongful removal within the meaning of Hague Convention and applicable Federal and State law". Judge Nuessle set a date of January 19, 1998 for the hearing. This was almost two months from the date of his original hearing, which was clearly in violation of Articles 1 and 11 of the Hague Treaty. Article Eleven states that judicial authorities should act "expeditiously in proceedings for the return of children".

At this point, Christiane's attorneys filed in the United States District Court, for the Southern District of Georgia. After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Dudley H. Bowen concluded, "My opinion and conclusion is that this matter needs to move forward". He further stated that "this Court has original and concurrent jurisdiction with the state court". Judge Bowen also found that "the Superior Court of Richmond County has not addressed, in this order, factual findings that are sufficient to support the conclusion that is drawn about the absence of jurisdiction". Judge Bowen held hearings on the 12th and 19th of December 1997. On November 22, 1997, Judge Bowen ruled that the children were wrongly removed from Germany in violation of the Hague Treaty, and ordered their immediate return.

On December 23, 1997, while Christiane and the girls were at the Atlanta Airport, a stay in Judge Bowen's order, to return the children to Germany, was issued by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. This new order barred the children from leaving the states of Georgia or South Carolina. Christiane and the children returned to our house where they stayed until the stay was lifted on May 7, 1998, by the United States Court of Appeals.

Even after Judge Bowen assumed jurisdiction of the proceedings and ordered the return of the children to Germany and while the case was on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court, Judge Nuessle still refused to relinquish his jurisdiction and proceeded to try and force the return of the children to the abductors. On February 13, 1998 Justice Toal of the Supreme Court of South Carolina issued a stay of the family court order that ordered Christiane to turn her children over to South Carolina by February 16, 1998. This stay was in support of Judge Bowen's order "enjoining the parties to this appeal from in any way participating in the South Carolina family court action."

In an order dated February 19, 1998, Justice Toal issued the following additional order. "It is ordered that the stay in this matter is continued until the federal litigation between the parties is finally resolved". (The matter was at this point at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on appeal.)

On July 13, 1998, Christiane's former husband and his mother appealed to the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the judgement of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh circuit. On February 22, 1999, the petition for a writ of certiorari was denied.


  • Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. Lops v. Lops before the Honorable Dudley H. Bowen, Jr. in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. 22 December 1997. File Number CV197-298.

  • United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit. Christiane Lops, Petitioner-Appellee v. Michael Lops, Anne E. Harrington, Repondents-Appellants. May 7, 1998
  • Below are a few pictures of the children and Christiane while they were living in Lawrenceville, Georgia. December 23, 1997 through May 7, 1998

    Return to Germany and a new job

    Christiane, Carmen and Claire (The three C's) returned to Germany on May 7, 1998. She was in the United States six months and one day. In that time she used every bit of money she had saved and was dependent on others for the care and well being of her children. Even though the courts had ordered the children's father to turn over their toys and clothing, the order was never enforced. If it had not been for the fact that her legal fees were pro bono, she would never have been able to proceed through five courts over five years. Christiane would have lost her children by default.

    In the time she was here and lived at our house, Karen and I were able to observe not only how well she related to her children, but also how well she related to other parents who have also had their children abducted by a spouse. Christiane speaks four languages, German, English, French and Luxembourg. For this reason, when she returned to Germany, the Board of Directors of the Committee for Missing Children asked Christiane if she would like to open an office for the Committee in Germany to assist parents who have had their children abducted to Germany and from Germany to other countries.

    In June 1998, Christiane opened the European office of the Committee for Missing Children. We are lucky to have such a capable person on our staff.

    Below are a few pictures of Christiane and the girls since returning home May 7, 1998 through March 4, 2001.



    Photos by: Chris Thelen