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Child Custody Orders Difficult When Parents Live in Different Countries

Usually, child custody determinations are a matter for state family courts, but a recent international child custody dispute had made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court - and falls well beyond the normal "best interests of the child" analysis.

Case Background

The case, which the Supreme Court agreed to hear last week, involves the daughter of a member of the U.S. military and his wife - whom he has now filed for divorce from and currently lives in Scotland.

According to court documents, the daughter has lived in Scotland since 2007, and traveled to the U.S. in 2010 when her parents attempted reconciliation. Unfortunately, the parents failed to reconcile and the wife was forced to leave the U.S. as her visa had expired. A court battle ensued, with a state court ruling the daughter should stay in the U.S.

Following an appeal to a U.S. District Court, it was ordered that the daughter be returned to her mother in Scotland. The federal court determined that Scotland was the girl's "habitual residence," and thus under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction ordered she should be returned there.

Eventually, a federal court of appeals dismissed the father's appeal because the girl was already in Scotland, thus his argument was now moot. However, the father now claims that this decision would actually deny any child custody rights for any U.S. parent whose child was abducted to another country.

While it remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will ultimately decide this issue, one thing they must tackle first is how in the world they can even enforce an international child custody determinations.

Source: CNBC, "Supreme Court to hear int'l child custody dispute," Reuters, August 13, 2012

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