Will there be Family Restoration for Rifqa Bary?

On October 13, a Florida district court will hold hearings on proper jurisdiction in the case of the Ohio teen runaway, Rifqa Bary, who fled to Florida in fear of becoming a victim of an honor killing by her family’s religious community because of her personal faith in Jesus Christ.

What every child wants, and what every court deems to be in a child’s best interests, is to be restored to her family if at all possible. Courts must balance the best interests of the child with the parents’ rights to direct the upbringing of their children. The Bary’s want their daughter to be raised according to their family’s Muslim faith. Rifqa’s personal faith in Christ has caused her to fear for her life. The upcoming hearing will be critical to this family’s future in every way. The only person who can truly bring restoration to the Bary family is the ultimate Judge and Law Giver, Jesus Christ, though a court will try to do so next week.

A quick summary would be helpful. Florida alone has had jurisdiction since the initial hearing in early August when Rifqa’ s pastor friends in Florida brought the petition for her case to the attention of the FL court system asking for assistance for Rifqa’s safety. Florida then took custody of the child, having no other choice.

Ohio jurisdiction had to be invoked by her parents in Ohio petitioning a court in that state requesting her return, and invoking their parental rights. They did not do that until the end of September. A court date is set in Ohio for October 27. As soon as that action was filed, the jurisdictional conflict began.

Since that action was filed it is likely that the judges in each jurisdiction assigned to the case have spoken by telephone about the law surrounding such cases. The pertinent law in this regard appears to be the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), which requires a child’s home state to be determined by where the child has the closest contacts, and has been adopted in some form by every state. The home state is determined by 1) where the child has resided for the previous 6 months; 2) where the child has attended school, been involved in the community, etc. Under this law, a court could also gain jurisdiction if there has been a previous legal action in that state. Finally, under this rule courts can invoke “emergency jurisdiction” if the circumstances so warrant such action for “the best interests of the child.” Here, that’s how Florida got jurisdiction, and began the initial investigations. These were not full blown, however, due to Florida’s lack of clarity on the facts, scant evidence, and no jurisdiction to do a full blown investigation out of state. On the other hand, Ohio is clearly where the child has been living the past 6 months, attended school, etc. Furthermore, the UCCJA encourages the judges to communicate with each other regarding what should be the proper jurisdiction.

Here’s what I think most likely has happened:
The Florida Judge is concerned for Rifqa’s safety but knows the law most likely requires her return to Ohio. However, he most likely wants assurance from the Ohio judge that Rifqa will be kept safe and a full on family investigation will ensue. On the other hand, the Ohio Judge wants to respect Florida’s attempts at finding the proper jurisdiction, and wants to assure Florida that these concerns will be adequately handled in the best interests of the child. Therefore, the October 13 hearing in Florida will most likely be to announce a ruling to forego jurisdiction in favor of Ohio with assurances of Rifqa’s safety.

What will happen then?
RIfqa will likely then be removed to Ohio by that state’s Child Protective Services (CPS) to state custody where she’ll be placed with a foster family near her home town until a full blown CPS investigation and home study can be done. This is MY analysis according to what I think is the pertinent law applied to the facts, and may not be what actually happens. What may also alter the law is a political position taken by a Florida leader to prohibit Rifqa’s return, or new solid evidence that she is in danger if returned to Ohio.

There is a grave concern among many that this child’s fears are real and should not be taken lightly. Evidence of other honor killings within families in the past brings great pause. Currently the case has mostly allegations on each side, and little to no solid evidence. Sadly, the right evidence will be when Rifqa is harmed – and then it will be too late. Both judges realize that, and will proceed cautiously. Others argue that parents have a fundamental constitutionally protected right to direct the upbringing of their children. That is absolutely true. Such an inalienable right can only be abridged when the state must intervene to protect the child where parents have abrogated that duty.

Though a court will try to restore this family next week, the only person who can truly bring restoration to the Bary family is the ultimate Judge and Law Giver, Jesus Christ, who has already paid the penalty for us all. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” I John 5:13. It is a great comfort to know that this Supreme Judge is really in control, and will work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

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