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April 03, 2023 Feature

In Memory of Narkis Golan

Nicole Fidler

Narkis Golan was a U.S. citizen and mother who fled Italy in 2018 with her then-two-year-old son to escape physical, psychological, and sexual abuse perpetrated by her husband. After Ms. Golan fled to New York, her husband filed a petition seeking an order to return their son to Italy pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”). In January 2019, before the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Golan’s legal team laid out a chilling and irrefutable record of domestic violence. The team focused on proving the Hague Convention’s Article 13(b) “grave risk” exception to return. The District Court found that the child would face a grave risk of harm if returned to Italy, but nonetheless ordered his return pursuant to a number of so-called ameliorative measures, which the Court was obliged to consider under then-Second Circuit precedent requiring the court to “examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child” even after grave risk has been established. Because of a Circuit split in the way ameliorative measures are treated, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

In 2022, Ms. Golan and her legal team were successful in setting a new precedent: in a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court found in favor of Ms. Golan’s legal argument, holding that a court is not “categorical[ly] require[d]” to “consider all possible ameliorative measures” before denying a Hague Convention petition for return of a child where it has already found that return would expose the child to a grave risk of harm. Golan v. Saada, 142 S. Ct. 1880, 1893 (2022). The Court also noted that there may be certain grave risks that might preclude consideration of ameliorative measures altogether, and under certain circumstances, domestic violence might be one such instance. The decision is a huge victory for survivors of domestic violence asserting the “grave risk” defense. Unfortunately, the case was remanded to the District Court for further proceedings in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. In the midst of ongoing proceedings on remand, Ms. Golan tragically and unexpectedly passed away in October 2022 at the age of 32.

Even from a young age Narkis Golan, who grew up in a Jewish community in Brooklyn, believed in standing up for those she considered to be underdogs. Her sister Morin Golan remembers Narkis as a strong-willed and compassionate child who once brought home a hamster that only had one eye because she was worried that nobody else would want it. Narkis was bold and brave, and when she was 25 she agreed to marry an Italian man whom she had met at a wedding the year before. He wanted her to start a family with him in Italy. They married in Israel in 2015 and then moved to Italy. Almost immediately after the wedding, Narkis’ new husband began abusing her. For three years, Narkis was the target of her husband’s incredibly angry outbursts. She suffered horrible physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, including abuse that occurred while she was pregnant with her son, B.A.S, and later while B.A.S. was present in the apartment. Summoning incredible strength and bravery, Narkis sought help in Italy multiple times but was never able to get the protection and assistance she needed. Again summoning that same strength and bravery, and understanding that both she and her young son faced grave risk if they were to continue living with her violent husband, Narkis and B.A.S. fled Italy in 2018 and sought safety and security in the Brooklyn community where she was raised. But instead of being allowed to protect her son, Narkis’ courageous journey home to the U.S. marked the beginning of a grueling four-year battle in the U.S. court system in which her son’s safety was constantly in jeopardy.

As one of the attorneys working with Narkis during her four-year struggle, I witnessed the devastating toll it took on her: the trauma of an exhausting nine-day trial where she had to recount every horrible incident of abuse that she suffered; the pained bewilderment of learning that the District Court Judge agreed her husband was dangerous and that her son would face a grave risk of physical or psychological harm if he were returned to Italy—but nonetheless ordered his return; and the agony of four anxiety-ridden years of worrying that her son could be ripped from her at any moment. Narkis was made to bear more than any young mother should ever have to. But that is not what I think about when I reflect on Narkis’ life. I describe the darkness she faced only to better highlight the light she brought.

Narkis was a tireless fighter. She fought passionately for the safety and well-being of her son as well as all of her “Hague Moms,” as she called them. The Hague Moms are women who, like Narkis, fled abuse across international borders to protect themselves and their children, and then faced great adversity in a judicial system that can be incredibly hostile to domestic violence survivors. Narkis always kept her eye on the bigger picture. She knew that her case was important not only to protect her son, but also because of the opportunity to create positive case law that would help future survivors asserting the Hague Convention’s Article 13(b) “grave risk” defense—the defense most often invoked by survivors fleeing violence. Narkis never stopped talking about how her case could set precedent that would help future survivor-mothers in situations like hers. That was her dream, and the possibility that she could make positive change helped keep her going despite her own profound heartache. Narkis always believed that her case would be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, even after we counseled her that a mere 1 percent of cases are accepted by the Court for consideration. But she had faith. She believed that the adversity she suffered had a higher purpose. And so she fought.

Narkis was a mother who loved her son more than anything in the world. Even during the hardest times, her face lit up with pure joy whenever she told us stories about him. She dedicated her life to protecting her son and surrounding him with love, peace, and happiness.

She was a rock and a constant source of support for her Hague Moms. Through social media and word of mouth, Narkis connected with other Hague Moms going through similar circumstances and provided comfort, resources, and advice. It wasn’t until after her death that the depth of her support for other Hague Moms became clear. Her sister Morin began hearing from women who had forged strong bonds with Narkis and who reached out to offer their condolences. Narkis “didn’t talk a lot about what she was doing for others,” Morin explained. “She just harnessed a strength that is unimaginable,” Morin said. “I didn’t even know she possessed it until I spoke with some of these Hague Moms and they shared with me what an anchor she was for them. They knew that at any point if they were feeling down on themselves and like they couldn’t carry the weight anymore and fight this battle, they could come to her and she would give them the strength that they needed to continue. She helped them stay grounded and stay motivated and determined to continue their fight.”

Narkis is a hero. Through her passion, courage, and resilience, she created real and lasting change that will help survivors who follow in her footsteps. In fact, very soon after her case was decided at the Supreme Court, lower courts began citing it in decisions that found in favor of survivor-mothers seeking protection. This is her legacy, forged by a boundless love for her son and a selfless determination to help others.

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Nicole Fidler

Nicole Fidler, Esq. is the Director of the Pro Bono Project at Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence. In addition to managing Sanctuary’s robust pro bono practice, which consists of approximately 1,000 pro bono attorneys, Nicole also represents survivors seeking assistance from Sanctuary’s family and matrimonial law practice. Prior to joining Sanctuary, Nicole was a litigator at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, LLP. While at Milbank, she was actively involved in pro bono work, focusing primarily on family, criminal, and immigration matters. Nicole regularly trains attorneys on topics related to domestic violence and trauma-informed lawyering. She is co-chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Pro Bono & Legal Services Committee and a member of the Public Interest Pro Bono Association (PIPBA). In her pre-law life, Nicole worked in communications and development for the Organization for Autism Research, a national non-profit organization dedicated to funding applied autism research.