Amharic Translations for Custody Dispute
We’ve blogged before about legal translation services for child custody disputes, particularly those where one or both parents speak a foreign language. The case discussed below highlights the complexities that can ensue when documents and testimony must be translated from Amharic into English in child custody and domestic relations disputes. Since these types of cases can have a long-lasting financial and emotional impact on both the parties and their children, it is imperative to have the assistance of a qualified, certified legal translator throughout all phases of litigation.
Plaintiff Begins Relationship with Married Ethiopian Businessman
In Mulgeta v. Ademachew, the plaintiff and defendant began a romantic relationship in 2009 while the defendant was married. The plaintiff, a 43-year-old American citizen, worked for the Boeing Company in Seattle, Washington when she met the defendant, a 63-year-old resident of Ethiopia who was also a U.S. citizen. The defendant owned two construction business located in Addis Abba, Ethiopia along with three homes: a house in Virginia, a condominium in Dubai, and his primary residence in Ethiopia. The defendant and his wife had six children, most of whom lived in Ethiopia.
In 2010, the plaintiff left her job at Boeing. She lived in Maryland for one month and then moved to Ethiopia. The defendant had promised to buy a home for the plaintiff in Ethiopia and also promised to open a school that the plaintiff could operate to support herself. The defendant also wanted to have a child with the plaintiff. Thereafter, after much persuasion by the defendant, the plaintiff became pregnant.
Not surprisingly, conflict ensued between the plaintiff and defendant’s wife. As a result, the plaintiff returned to her home in Maryland in September of 2010 and gave birth to the child six months later. The defendant visited the plaintiff and the child about 3-5 times a year for the first several years of the child’s life. In 2014, the defendant flew the plaintiff and their child to Ethiopia for five months to visit. Thereafter, their relationship fizzled. The parties’ relationship ended in 2015, and the defendant only saw the child a handful of times from then on. The defendant eventually sold the school he opened for the plaintiff in Ethiopia because it was no longer profitable.
Plaintiff Seeks Custody, Child Support, and Attorney’s Fees
In 2016, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in Maryland state court seeking child support, custody, and attorney’s fees. The matter went to trial, and the court granted the plaintiff’s request for sole custody and ordered the defendant to pay child support. The court found that the defendant did not visit the child frequently. The defendant was ordered to pay $10,000 a month in child support and a lump sum of $69,741.93 for unpaid child support. The court also ordered the defendant to add the child to his health insurance plan. Finally, the court denied the plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees.
Plaintiff Appeals Denial of Attorney’s Fees
Plaintiff, unsatisfied with the trial court’s denial of her request for attorneys’ fees, filed an appeal with the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. The plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in refusing to award her attorneys’ fees on the grounds that the Maryland Code requires the court to consider the parties’ financial resources and that the court erred in failing to consider the “superior resource” the defendant had at his disposal.
In evaluating the plaintiff’s claim, the court of appeals considered the parties’ financial situation extensively. The court noted that when the plaintiff left her job at Boeing, she was making $63,000 a year and had approximately $900,000 in a savings account. The savings account funds consisted of a $435,000 payment she received from the defendant upon the sale of the school as well as child support payments. She also received $60,000 for the down payment on her Maryland home. The defendant even purchased a Mercedes for the plaintiff in the U.S. and a BMW in Ethiopia. In sum, the court found that the defendant gave the plaintiff in excess of $1.5 million between 2010 and 2017.
The primary dispute at trial involved the extent of the defendant’s financial wealth and circumstances. The defendant owned a construction company that built roads, residences, and employed 2,000 people. He also co-owned another business with his wife. However, both the parties and their accountants disagreed on the amount of the defendant’s actual income, which was complicated in part by the fact that the money at issue was converted from the Ethiopian birr into U.S. currency and because many of the relevant documents had to be translated from Amharic into English. The defendant testified through an Amharic court interpreter that his company took loans from banks to manage the business and then he borrowed money from the company to build houses, etc. While the defendant testified that his withdrawals of $11 million constituted “loans” to his businesses, the plaintiff maintained that they were not loans at all and should be considered income.
Court of Appeals Affirms Trial Court’s Denial of Attorneys’ Fees
The Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeals found that that the trial court properly considered the issue of the parties’ “income disparity” in evaluating the plaintiff’s request for child support and attorneys’ fees. Specifically, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial court stated that there was an “extreme difference in the financial ability of [the defendant] and [the plaintiff].” However, the trial court found that the plaintiff was able to afford her attorneys’ fees as she had almost $1 million in savings. The Court of Appeals explained that it would not disturb a trial court’s award of attorney’s fees in a domestic relations case “unless a court’s discretion was exercised arbitrarily, or the judgment was clearly wrong.” Citing Petrini v. Petrini, 336 Md. 453, 468 (1994).
The case is Lulit Mulugeta v. Samuel Tafesse Ademachew, Court N0. 01253, decided on January 8, 2018 in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.
***This legal translations blog should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.***
Legal translation service All Language Alliance, Inc. provides certified translation services from Amharic to English and from English to Amharic. Contact us to retain a qualified Amharic to English deposition interpreter in family law and other civil cases.
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