from the Marion Superior Court Trial Court Cause No.
49D05-1602-DR-7130 The Honorable John M.T. Chavis, II, Judge,
The Honorable Victoria Ransberger, Magistrate
Attorneys for Appellant Katherine A. Harmon Jared S. Sunday
Attorneys for Appellee Michael A. Wilkins Nissa M. Ricafort
Erin M. Durnell Indianapolis, Indiana
Maimouna Coulibaly (Mother) appeals from the trial
court's finding that it lacked jurisdiction to modify a
child custody order issued in the west-African nation of Mali
in favor of Eric Stevance (Father). On appeal, Mother argues
that the trial court erred in concluding that it was required
to enforce the Malian court's order under the Uniform
Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) as
codified in Indiana. Specifically, Mother argues that the
trial court erred in concluding that the Malian order was not
the product of laws that violate fundamental human rights.
& Procedural History
Mother and Father are both dual citizens of France and Mali.
They were married in Mali in 2001 and had two children, a
daughter born in 2002 and a son born in 2004, who are also
dual citizens of Mali and France. Father is a computer
science engineer, and throughout the marriage and thereafter,
he has operated a company that provides internet service in
Mali. Mother is a physician, and she and the children lived
in France with Father's consent from 2005 until 2007
while pursuing her Master's degree in epidemiology.
Father remained in Mali during this time but visited Mother
and the children regularly. Mother returned to Mali in 2007,
where she practiced as an OB/GYN. Mother wished to immigrate
to Canada, and she and Father both filed the necessary
paperwork to do so. At some point, however, Father made it
clear that he did not want to leave Mali or the business he
The marriage subsequently deteriorated, and Father filed a
petition for divorce in Mali on March 14, 2008. Mother and
Father appeared before a conciliatory magistrate and were
ordered to participate in a six-month reconciliation period.
A few months later, Mother retained counsel and asked the
Malian court to waive the reconciliation period and rule on
the divorce petition. Both parties appeared at the final
hearing with counsel and presented evidence. At the hearing,
Mother indicated that she wished to live outside of Mali and
she alleged that Father had been physically abusive to her.
Father denied Mother's abuse accusation and asserted that
Mother was determined to move to Canada or Europe and he
feared she would kidnap the children and cease contact with
him. Both parties asked for custody of the children.
Following the hearing, but prior to the issuance of the
Malian court's custody order, Mother took the children
and moved to France.
On October 6, 2008, the Malian court issued its decree
awarding Father custody of the children. Despite this order,
Mother has not returned the children to Father, and she
unsuccessfully sought relief from the order in both Mali and
France before moving to the United States and seeking such
relief in Indiana. In her current challenge to the Malian
custody order, Mother argues that the order is unenforceable
under the UCCJEA because Mali's child custody laws
violate fundamental human rights.
At the five-day evidentiary hearing, Mother presented
evidence regarding Mali's laws, culture, and customs.
Mother also presented testimony concerning allegedly
widespread judicial corruption in Mali, difficulties
noncustodial mothers in Mali reportedly face in securing
visitation with their children, and a number of cultural
practices oppressive to women and children. Much of
Mother's evidence focused on the prevalence of female
genital mutilation (FGM) in Mali and the absence of a law
specifically prohibiting the procedure.Although neither
Mother nor her sisters underwent FGM, Mother's evidence
indicated that as many as ninety percent of women and girls
in Mali are subjected to the procedure, which has been
condemned by human rights groups worldwide. Mother also
presented testimony suggesting that spousal and child abuse
was widely accepted and rarely prosecuted in Mali.
The trial court rejected Mother's arguments, finding that
although government corruption may have been a problem in
Mali at the time of the parties' divorce, there was no
evidence of bribery, corruption, or influence in the divorce
proceedings at issue here. With respect to the issue of FGM,
the trial court noted that Father described the practice as
"horrible." Appellant's Appendix at
25. The court found no evidence that the parties'
daughter was in danger of being subjected to FGM if she
returned to Mali, and noted further that there was no
indication that Mother had raised the issue of FGM in the
Malian court proceedings. The trial court also found that
although there might have been some cultural acceptance of
domestic violence and child abuse in Mali at the time of the
divorce, there were laws on the books prohibiting such abuse
and agencies charged with investigating allegations thereof.
The trial court rejected Mother's claim that the Malian
court had applied a presumption that Father should have
custody of the children, finding instead that the Malian
court's order reflected its consideration of several
factors relating to the best interests of the children.
Accordingly, the trial court found no violation of
fundamental human rights and concluded that the Malian
court's order was entitled to enforcement and that the
Indiana court lacked jurisdiction to modify it. The trial
court ordered the children immediately returned to Father,
but subsequently approved the parties' agreement to stay
enforcement of the order pending appeal.
The trial court in this case entered special findings of fact
and conclusions thereon pursuant to Trial Rule 52(A). Our
review of such findings and conclusions is two-tiered. In
re Paternity of D.T., 6 N.E.3d 471, 474 (Ind.Ct.App.
2014). First, we consider whether the evidence supports the
findings, and second, whether the findings support the
judgment. Id. The trial court's findings and
conclusions will be set aside only if they are clearly
erroneous- that is, where a review of the record leaves us
with a firm conviction that a mistake has been made.
Id. In conducting our review, we will neither
reweigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of witnesses.
Id. Instead, we will consider only the evidence
favorable to the trial court's judgment. Id.
The ultimate issue presented on appeal is whether the trial
court properly recognized and enforced the Malian court's
custody order. Our court discussed the history and purposes
of the predecessor to the UCCJEA (known as the ...