• What You Should Know About International Custody Cases
  • November 16, 2017 | Author: Akinyi L. Orinda
  • Law Firm: Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker, P.A. - McLean Office
  • With sustained growth in international tourism, people are more apt to travel abroad, potentially meeting a partner and entering into a transnational marriage. When those relationships dissolve and the custody and rights of a child must be addressed, international families find themselves in a unique and sometimes difficult situation. Custody cases often involve intricate issues, which can be complicated further when more than one legal system is involved. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself faced with an international custody matter.

    Consult with an Experienced International Family Lawyer

    As in any case, the first thing that should be done is to consult with a lawyer experienced in international family law issues and concepts. International family law is a complex area and involves navigating the interplay between accepted principles of public international law, various multilateral treaties, and the laws of the tribunal(s) where the case may be heard. Oftentimes, international custody disputes involve litigation in more than one country at the same time. For example, a family may reside in one country and a parent may desire to return to their home country with the child. One parent therefore files for custody in the state of Maryland while the other simultaneously files for custody in their home (foreign) country. Under this scenario, one should be represented by a family law attorney in both countries to tackle jurisdiction-specific issues that may arise.

    Which Country Has Jurisdiction to Hear a Custody Case

    The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) establishes the statutory framework that governs the exercise of child custody jurisdiction in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and most of the United States. The UCCJEA is designed to prevent the exercise of jurisdiction by multiple courts and the existence of multiple contradictory custody decisions. On a basic level, the UCCJEA provides that whichever state or country is the child’s “home state” – determined by where the child has lived for six months – has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination. It is not always a simple inquiry, however. What if the child has lived in multiple states or has no home state? Under this scenario, a court will look to the state with the most significant connections and available evidence on custody. When attempting to establish the home state of a child, it is important to gather as much information and documentation as possible to support the claim that a particular court should hear the case.

    Concerns That a Child May Be Removed From the United States

    For countries which have ratified the Hague Convention, the Convention provides a mechanism for courts of a member country to order the immediate return of a child who is taken from their country of habitual residence in violation of custody rights. While the application of the Convention has been successful in returning children who have wrongfully been removed or retained in a member country, exercising best practices to prevent a wrongful abduction is critical. Parents should pay attention to certain risk factors or indications that a child is at risk from being removed from the country, such as a parent abandoning employment, selling a primary residence, obtaining passports for a child, closing bank accounts, and historical threats made by a parent. Acting quickly to protect a parent’s rights and prevent the unlawful removal of a child from their home is paramount.