A Dominican Parental Child Abduction

In January 2011 two children where illegally taken to the Dominican Republic by their mother, Maria Rivera-Estevez. An existing court order is in place detailing custody, visitation, travel, and the U.S. as habitual residence for the children. The mother removed the children from Virginia and took them to the Dominican Republic without the father Robert Makielski’s authorization as required by the current custody order. The Culpeper Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court has ordered the mother to return to Virginia with the children, with which the mother has not complied. The Father tried to contact various mediation organizations to negotiate a solution to the issue. However, the mother did not respond. Culpeper Child Protective Services was warned of the possible abduction in mid-January 2011. When the abduction was discovered, CPS representatives (attorney and social workers) where in the courtroom for proceedings related to custody. It was found a year later that CPS had no record of a complaint nor a report to the attorney for the Commonwealth and the local law-enforcement agency (Code of Virginia § 63.2-1503). The father made a report to James Mack of the Culpeper Count Sheriff Department and to the FBI. Additionally he made reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Although Child abduction cases should be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), NCMEC was unable to find the children’s records. About a month elapsed before the Commonwealth issued an arrest warrant was for Maria Rivera-Estevez (Virginia Code Section 18.2-49.1 Felony – Custody/Visitation Violation Outside of Virginia). In February 2011, Mr. Makielski filed a Hague application (The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, or Hague Abduction Convention) with US State Department in which he accrued considerable expenses to have all documents translated to Spanish. Although there was a pending divorce on the Culpeper circuit court docket, Maria Rivera had filed for divorce and custody in the Dominican Republic. In violation of Hague article 16 the Divorce was heard without Mr. Makielski’s knowledge. He had to retain counsel in the Dominican Republic to have the Dominican divorce dismissed. For the Hague application, the first hearing took place in May 2011 where the judge ruled to allow the mother time to gather additional evidence. Contradictory to the Hague treaty, the Dominican Judge, William Encarnación Mejia, ordered the father’s physical presence in the D.R. court. Due to threats posted by parties related to Ms. Rivera, the father’s availability via online video conference, and his safety and security could not be guaranteed; he did not travel to the country. The judge refused to allow him to appear by video conference. Additionally, a representative from the US embassy was not permitted to attend the hearings. Two further hearings took place in June where the daughter was forced to testify. The Dominican judge did not allow the parties or their attorneys to be present during the testimony of the daughter; only the Judge and the 2 Dominican psychologists were present. In July the hearings continued. The father provided documentation (translated and apostilled) showing he had no pending charges, no criminal record and no sex offender record existed. On August 4, 2011, Consejo Nacional Para la Niñez y la Adolescencia (CONANI the Dominican Central Authority) and father’s Attorney presented closing arguments requesting the return of the children. On October 4, 2011, the Dominican court released its decision to deny the return of the children based on Article 13 of the Hague treaty (that there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation). An Appeal was filed and heard on December 14, 2011. On July 25, 2012 the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling. Meanwhile in Culpeper Virginia, Mr Makielski attempted to file for amended custody for his children. Additionally, the Guardian ad Litem filed for Child in need of Services (CHINS) petition in the Juvenile Court. The Mother’s attorney, Michael Sharman, was successful in stalling the proceedings in the Juvenile Court by arguing that he was making a special appearance because the mother did not receive proper service. However, through testimony of representative from the daughter’s school it was discovered that Mr. Sharman had assisted with the abduction by obtaining school records for Ms. Rivera. Even with this revelation, he was still able to stall the custody proceeding by arguing that his client did not receive proper service. The Juvenile Court ruled that the children should be returned and that they were in need of services (CHINS). In order to get past the Mr. Sharman’s tactics, the father’s attorney filed a motion to move the custody issue to the Circuit court along with the divorce. The motion was granted. In June 2011 the Culpeper divorce was granted but the issues with the children still needed to be heard. Mr. Sharman filed excessive motions in attempt to block the custody from going to trial. He also filed an appeal for the CHINs. Finally, hearing was held in January 2012 where Judge John G. “Jack” Berry, dismissed two of Mr. Sharman’s motions; Forum Non Conveniens and Motion for Summary judgment. In February 2012 Judge Berry stepped down from the bench, leaving Culpeper Circuit without a sitting Judge. There are still pending motions that await a ruling before the custody can heard. Mr. Sharman’s tactics have cost the father an excess of $30,000 (excluding the divorce, proceedings in the Juvenile court and the proceedings in the D.R.) without ever having a hearing on the custody his children. December 11, 2012 Culpeper County Circuit Court awarded Mr. Makielski sole physical and legal custody of both children. The Court found that it does not have to give Full Faith and Credit to the finding of the Dom Rep Hague Court and specifically that the Hague Court cannot decide custody; that the wrongful removal of the children does not give the Hague Court a basis to find that the children are settled in the Dom Rep; that the Court does not find a risk of grave harm to the children if they are returned to Virginia; that there is no evidence of abuse of the children; that the Hague Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction. Furthermore the Court found the Mother had the protection of the Virginia Court and should have come to the Court for assistance as opposed to fleeing. The State Department Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) has only assisted by processing the father’s Hague application. In April 2011 the embassy performed a Health and Welfare visit. The mother has refused to allow any subsequent visits. The children were located in the ”Ensache Ozama” neighborhood of Santo Domingo where they are now are exposed to an extremely diminished standard of living. Since then that have moved to another barrio of in Santo Domingo Este. At the time of the removal, the daughter was enrolled in the public schools gifted student program (The World Economic Forum ranks the DR at 139 out of 147 for education). Compared to their home in the US, this neighborhood suffers from the social problems of high crime, lack of garbage collection, frequent blackouts and unclean water. The Dominican Republic Government has not allowed Mr. Makielski any contact with his children. He has not seen or heard from his children since January 18, 2011. Since the December 2012 Custody award in Virginia, Mr Makielski has reached out to both the children's counselor and school in the Dom. Rep. However, there has been no repsonse.


  1. May 25, 2012 message to Isabel and Gabriel Makielski
  2. Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights

    International Child Abduction: Broken Laws and Bereaved Lives May 24, 2011

  3. Office of Children's issues Open house - Hillary Rodham Clinton Secretary of State Washington, DC May 21, 2012