Mexico: Family Law


Mexico is a renowned haven for international child abductors.

It does not comply with its international obligations under the Hague Convention. Its procedures for enforcing its Hague Convention treaty obligations are weak, unpredictable and entirely ineffective.

The Centre for International Family Law Studies in Cardiff, Wales compared seven jurisdictions, including Mexico. The conclusion was that Mexico was by far the worst offender in its failure to return abducted children.

The following is the U.S. State Department's 2010 Report on Mexico's continued noncompliance with the Hague Convention.  The full report can be found here:

The Department finds Mexico not compliant with the Convention in FY 2009. The USCA observed noncompliance in the areas of law enforcement and judicial performance, and experienced serious difficulties communicating with the Mexican Central Authority (MCA) that resulted in costly inconvenience for LBPs and significant delays in processing return applications.

The USCA submitted 114 Hague applications to the MCA in FY 2009, predictably more than to any other country to which children were abducted from the United States given the cross-border activity between Mexico and the United States. The USCA identified 53 unresolved cases that had been pending for 18 months or more subsequent to the filing of the application (see “Unresolved Return Applications” section of this report). In 38 of these unresolved cases, the USCA requested the MCA's assistance to locate the children with the help of Mexican law enforcement authorities, including Interpol and Mexico's federal investigations agency, the Agencia Federal de Investigación (AFI). In many of the cases, the LBP was able to provide the MCA with last known street addresses for the TP and child along with telephone numbers and the names of the schools the child might be attending, but the Mexican authorities failed to locate them. Two main factors, we believe, contributed to this problem: first, too few law enforcement agents have been assigned to cover large territories and populations; and second, an apparent lower priority has been given to international child abduction cases compared to other, increasingly violent criminal activity.

Mexico took some encouraging steps to comply with the Convention during FY 2009. With respect to the USCA's pending Hague applications, in 30 cases children were returned from Mexico. The MCA assisted U.S. LBPs in at least six cases by contacting Mexican consulates in the United States to request that they expedite processing of powers of attorney needed for a third party to represent the LBP in court hearings in Mexico, and to authorize the third party to take temporary custody of the child to bring him or her back to the United States because the LBP could not travel. The MCA and the state Supreme Courts of Nuevo León and Guanajuato collaborated with the U.S. Embassy to carry out two judicial seminars in late September, involving USCA and academic experts from Guadalajara and Mexico City.

In FY 2009, Mexican courts continued to demonstrate patterns of delay in processing applications under the Convention, as illustrated by several of the cases listed under Mexico in the “Unresolved Return Applications” section of this report. In at least two instances, six months elapsed between the time the case was assigned to a court and the date of the first hearing; in another, seven months elapsed. In five other cases, it took between 16 and 55 months before the court held the first hearing on the application for return. These delays disadvantaged LBPs and led to rulings that the children should not be returned because they had become “settled” in their new environment, an exception to return listed in Article 12 of the Convention.

The USCA observed the following three causal factors for judicial delays: (1) lack of implementing legislation or procedures for Convention applications and many Mexican judges following inapposite procedures found in state civil codes in resolving such cases; (2) lack of understanding of the Convention by many Mexican judges, as evidenced by extensive requests for information, including letters under Article 15 of the Convention from the USCA to confirm that a particular case involved an international child abduction as defined by the Convention; and (3) TPs absconding with the children when summoned to a hearing because they were notified of the hearing but neither they nor the children were secured in any way. The USCA has observed that a tool for securing children in the Mexican system is for the judge to place the child temporarily in a children's protection service (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, or DIF) shelter while the case is being processed, but judges are reluctant to place children in these shelters unless the TP is determined to be a clear danger to the child.

Application of the “amparo” (constitutionally-based appeal) process in ways that are inconsistent with commitments under the Convention is an ongoing problem. TPs sometimes allege that the procedure under the Convention violates their right to due process under the Mexican Constitution. In response to the filing of an amparo, judges issue a provisional order that immediately freezes proceedings under the Convention pending adjudication of the underlying constitutional issue. Precedent exists in Mexican law to promptly adjudicate and reject an amparo in a Convention case alleging violation of due process. For example, both the Mexican Supreme Court and the highest court in the Federal District have determined that procedures under the Convention comport with the Constitution's due process requirements, and these decisions have been relied upon by lower courts. Despite these positive developments, adjudication of Convention-related amparos is still subject to frequent delay.

During the reporting period, the MCA, the Hague Permanent Bureau, and the U.S. Government collaborated in three seminars designed to enhance judicial awareness of the Convention, with special emphasis on the compatibility of the Convention with the due process guarantees of the Mexican Constitution. The USCA and the U.S. Embassy repeatedly asked by email, telephone, fax, and letters for status updates on the longstanding cases detailed in the “Unresolved Return Applications” section of this report, but received no replies by the end of the reporting period in at least 19 of these cases.

The MCA has inadequate staffing. The Hague Permanent Bureau's Guide to Good Practice indicates that central authority staff should be “sufficient in numbers to cope with the workload” (Guide to Good Practice on Central Authority Performance, § 2.4.1). In the USCA's view, the MCA needs more staff in order to comply with Convention requirements, and Mexico needs to allocate more resources to enhance judicial training programs to improve judges' understanding of the Convention, to establish procedures to process applications in the absence of implementing legislation, and to improve Mexican law enforcement's ability to locate missing children.

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