Wednesday, 28 January 2009

US: Jurisdiction can apply in seeking Protection Order even when other party is overseas

In the United States, the Ohio Court of Appeals in the recent decion of Dobos v Dobos [PDF file]reversed the trial court decision denying a woman a protection order after she and her children escaped to the United States from Hungary to avoid further domestic violence from her husband. The court held that threatening phone calls from the husband in another country could potentially be sufficient to establish minimum contact, and vacated the trial court’s decision and remanded it back for an evidentiary hearing and test for jurisdiction.

In 1999, Jennifer Dobos (petitioner) and Sandor Dobos (respondent) were married in Hungary. They had two children, one born in Hungary and the other born in Ohio. In 2001, the couple moved to Ohio until 2004, when they returned to Hungary. In 2007, the petitioner returned to Ohio with her children and filed a petition for a protection order. She alleged severe physical and emotional abuse by her husband in front of their children.

After Jennifer sought medical treatment for her bruised, swollen, and battered body parts, she tried to get protection from her husband via Hungarian officials. Yet, without tangible proof of broken bones or puncture wounds, she was turned away because it is not against Hungarian law to have abuse absent such injuries. The petitioner returned to the respondent to accumulate the necessary passports and plane tickets to be able to return to Ohio, where she filed for a civil protection order.

A magistrate, after listening to oral arguments on the jurisdictional issue dismissed the Jenniferrequest for a protection order due to a lack of jurisdiction. The magistrate held that Sandor did not have minimum contact with Ohio because the abuse occurred in Hungary, not Ohio. The court could not have jurisdiction over the matter simply because the petitioner fled to Ohio. Additionally, because Hungary was almost 10,000 km away, Jennifer’s claim that there was an immediate and present danger by her husband was held untrue.

Remianing unprotected, Jennifer appealed.

On appeal, the court held that an evidentiary hearing should have been performed to determine whether jurisdiction was present and whether minimum contact necessary to satisfy due process existed. As a result, the court concluded that the magistrate failed to examine how the husband’s phone calls or her fear of him possibly coming to Ohio could reasonably put the petitioner and her children in fear of imminent harm.

The appellate court felt that the threatening phone calls from Sandor were sufficient to establish minimum contact, and the location of Hungary wasn’t dispositive of the issue. Additionally, without an evidentiary hearing the court could not determine whether extending jurisdiction over the husband would comply with fair play and substantial justice.

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