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This is the story of an international parental child abduction which has been going on for over four years now. The US State Department website explains how the Hague Abduction Convention is supposed to help get children back quickly to the left-behind parent (in this case, the father). The US and South Korea are treaty partners under this convention, and courts in both countries have ruled with finality that the children should be returned to him in California. However, the authorities responsible have failed to enforce the court orders.
As a result, the children have become completely cut off from their father, their extended family, and their American heritage...for no valid reason whatsoever. Not even videochat is possible.
You can find more information in the resources section, including a detailed timeline of the abduction story.
Since October 2022, the left-behind parent has been carrying out single-person outdoor public demonstrations at various locations around the city of Seoul. Walking at each site for hours per day on a portable treadmill, he yearns to be reunited with his children. Please show your support and help him reach them!
If you are able to assist with accessing government officials or journalists in either the US or Korea, please email the left-behind parent directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are in the USA, you can also use this template to write to your Congressional representatives.
And please follow along on social media to lend your support and keep up to date on activism campaign opportunities and the latest developments in this case:
Father (a US citizen) and mother (a citizen of South Korea) met in San Francisco, got married there, and bought a house together. Mother became a permanent resident of the United States, where they made their shared life together.
Born in San Francisco, big brother spent several days in the NICU before coming home from the hospital. View photos from life in San Francisco.
During a visit to Korea, little sister was born in a hospital there, and then everyone flew back home to San Francisco. Both children became dual citizens of the US and South Korea.
After some marital conflict, mother took children to Korea for what was supposed to be a brief cooling-off visit, but without return tickets. Before flight, father gave limited consent for visit (only until December 20).
Father flew to Korea for daughter's first birthday and attempted to negotiate a return amicably. Mother eventually agreed to return by end of February 2020, and bought return tickets.
Father flew to Korea again for son's third birthday, and spent the month of February helping mother take care of children. (This turned out to be father's last real parenting time with children.) At end of month, mother canceled return tickets for herself and children. Mother held children's passports, so father flew back to California alone to take legal action.
Due to the pandemic, California courts mostly closed down, but father managed to file request for order (custody and return of children) in San Francisco County Superior Court. Hearings eventually took place via telephone (with mother participating remotely as well from Korea). Restrictions on videochat access between father and children began, at times cut off altogether for as long as three weeks.
The San Francisco court ordered that children be returned to California. Mother did not comply, so court assigned sole legal and physical custody to father and authorized him to travel to Korea to retrieve children. Father flew to Korea and quarantined in government facilities for 14 days. Mother still would not let him take children back to California, so father remained in Korea to file request for return of children in Seoul Family Court under the Hague Convention.
Remaining in Korea throughout the entire pandemic, father was finally able to see children again in person for daughter's second birthday (after being able to see them only via videochat for ten months). Visits continued on and off under highly restricted constraints throughout the year of 2021. View photos from these visits.
The Seoul Family Court proceedings took many months (even though under the Hague Convention, they should be handled with urgency, typically in under six weeks). Finally in June 2021, the court decided that the children should be returned to San Francisco. In October, the appellate court confirmed this decision, and granted provisional execution, allowing enforcement proceedings to begin. In response, mother prevented visitation altogether for three months, and made her final appeal to Korean Supreme Court. Father was not allowed to see daughter at all on her third birthday.
Finally, the Korean Supreme Court confirmed the Seoul Family Court decisions, dismissing the mother's appeal once and for all.
Father's attempts to get the return decision enforced by the Korean authorities have so far been unsuccessful. The bailiffs make excuses to avoid direct execution. The court's weak indirect enforcement mechanisms fail to achieve a voluntary return. Meanwhile, father has become entirely cut off from the children, no longer able to see them even via videochat. After the Supreme Court decision, the Korean courts provide him with no access at all while enforcement is in progress.
Due to delays and enforcement failures in this case and others, the US State Department's annual report on international parental child abduction cited the Republic of Korea for demonstrating a pattern of non-compliance in its Hague treaty obligations. State Department officials have held high-level talks with their Korean counterparts, but so far these have not led to a successful return. View the report and media coverage.
Despite all court decisions in his favor, father was entirely without access to his children, unable to spend any time at all with them since January 2022. So he began a public treadmill protest at various locations around the city of Seoul.
While filming with SBS Curious Stories Y, father discovered that mother had taken children out of kindergarten and into hiding (in response to the Seoul Family Court detention order issued in October). The police carried out welfare checks but refused to reveal the children's location. The Ministry of Justice also refused to help.
Intensive media coverage of the protest and abduction case continued. As a result, father was finally able to re-establish audio-only voice contact with his children; video chat was still not allowed by the mother. The US State Department sent the Special Advisor on Children's Issues to Seoul to urge the Korean government to resolve the case.
The father was finally able to confirm a new address in Seoul for the children via the US State Department. However, the police made no attempt to execute the detention order, and the Ministry of Justice again refused to assist.
While filming with MBC This Morning Live, the father discovered the children had once again been moved away to an unknown hiding spot. Even voice-only communication with them was cut off again.
Due to the ongoing failure by Korea to enforce the Hague return order in this case and others, the State Department again cited Korea for treaty non-compliance in its 2023 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction, for the second year in a row.
The case was raised during a US House Foreign Affairs subcommittee meeting on the topic of international parental child abduction, in the context of Korea's repeated non-compliance. And as a result of high-level diplomatic talks, a task force team was formed within the Korean government to address the issue.
During an investigation with TV Chosun, the children were once again located. Via the Seoul Family Court, they were briefly reunited with their father for one afternoon, but the mother continued to prevent their return to the US. During this time, while observing the children's behavior, a well-known Korean child psychology expert noted alarming symptoms of emotional harm caused by the abduction.
Due to her ongoing refusal to comply with the return order, the mother was finally placed in 30 days detention, and an emergency restraining order was also issued against her to protect the children from further risk of emotional harm. However, the children's maternal aunt and uncle prevented them from being returned to their father.
With the help of a prominent member of the Korean National Assembly, the father was able to address lawmakers and court officials during a parliamentary audit, and the case was also discussed at an international conference held at Seoul Family Court. However, the mother's family continued to hold the children, and police and child welfare workers made excuses instead of actually executing the protection order.
At long last, the Korean Supreme Court issued new rules for better enforcement procedures, to go into effect April 2024. The announcement is welcomed, but unaddressed defects leave doubts about whether the changes will be sufficient.
Father continues to seek help from the Korean government, as well as his own.