Supreme Court Weighs International Child Custody Issue

Parental divorce can be difficult for every member of the affected family. However, when the divorce involves child custody and relocation to another country, the resolution of custody disputes can be particularly challenging. In a recent case argued before the Supreme Court, one couple’s circumstances clearly demonstrate just how complicated such situations can become.

An American Army Sergeant and a Scottish woman married overseas while he was deployed, had a child, relocated to Alabama. The couple then divorced. The child’s mother petitioned to take her daughter to Scotland under the 1980 Hague Convention which grants parents a right of custody and a right of access to their children generally. A broad purpose of the treaty is to ensure that one nation’s custody laws are respected by all others.

A judge in Alabama granted the girl’s mother permission to take her to Scotland, which made it practically impossible for the girl’s father to appeal that decision once his daughter was in the other country. In fact, a federal appellate court ruled that the appeal could not be heard because the case was now moot, given that Scottish courts are unlikely to respect the wishes of American courts to hear said appeal.

The pending Supreme Court decision will ultimately determine whether Scottish courts will be at all pressured into hearing an appeal specifically and whether judges should grant these kinds of international relocation petitions before an appeal opportunity has been exercised generally. Failure to give affirmative guidance on this last issue could lead to more moot appeals as former spouses disappear overseas with their children.

Source: CNN, “Justices divided over international child custody dispute,” Bill Mears, Dec. 5, 2012

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