International Law

McMillan Gains Prominence

by Naseem Stecker

April was an exceptional month for Southfield attorney Jan Rewers McMillan. Years of hard work on the Sylvester case—trips to Austria, discussion and consultation with the U.S. State Department, Senate and House Committees, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, finally crystallized when on April 24, 2003, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously found that Austria had violated McMillan’s client’s fundamental human rights and awarded Thomas Sylvester money damages. He’s the first American parent to have a complaint concerning the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction admitted for consideration by the court.

‘‘Sylvester v Austria now takes its place alongside Ignaccolo-Zenide v Rumania in a line of human rights cases that will eventually lead to greater diligence in the enforcement of Hague Convention return orders throughout Europe. For now, the decision means that all Council of Europe nations signatory to the Hague Convention will risk human rights violations should they fail to promptly enforce a return order entered by their own courts under the Hague Convention,’’ McMillan said.

Both parties in the Sylvester case have until late July to request a review of the decision. McMillan says her client is considering the possibility of requesting review of the matter of damages awarded in light of the 4/3 split on that issue. Also, since the decision has no direct effect on the status quo of her client’s ability to see his daughter, they will continue with efforts in Congress and the State Department to improve the situation. McMillan added that the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty is scheduling a trip to Vienna in the near future to apply pressure on her Austrian counterparts to assist in a negotiated settlement on access.

As one of a dozen prominent American attorneys specializing in the field of international child abductions, McMillan continues to meet and work with a growing network of left-behind parents, mostly fathers, who struggle every day to gain access to their abducted children in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the United States. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that there are about 350,000 parental child abductions in the United States each year. Of this number 70,000 are international.

McMillan has been practicing family law in Michigan for more than 15 years. She is the incoming chair of the State Bar of Michigan’s International Law Section, chairperson of the International Family Law Committee, and a member of the Family Law Section. Her articles on international parental child abduction have been published by the Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the Michigan Bar Journal, and the Michigan International Lawyer. She contributed a chapter on Parental Kidnapping: Federal and International Law and Practice to the West Group publication Michigan Practitioner Series: Family Law and Practice. She has also lectured on various topics relating to domestic and international family law for ICLE and others, including a presentation on the enforcement of foreign orders to the Michigan Judicial Institute at its Annual Judicial Conference in October 2000.

In 1998, McMillan participated in one of two international forums hosted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to examine the practical problems of the Hague Convention and explore the means by which its operations could be improved. These forums led to the creation of a ‘‘Good Practice Report’’ published in 2002 designed for use by Central Authorities, legal professionals, judges, legislators, and parents. She is currently working in conjunction with the State Department on a symposium marking the fifteenth anniversary of ICARA, the implementing legislation for the Hague Convention in the U.S., to be conducted later this year.

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