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Supreme Court ruling could shape future of international custody

A child custody case can very quickly become a complicated manner. All sorts of variables, from money to family history to even geography can have a serious bearing on the final outcome of a court case between two separating parents.

Perhaps one of the most extreme custody situations a family can find themselves in is one involving dual citizenship. When an American marries a foreign national and then decides to separate with their spouse after the two have had a child, problems of conflicting jurisdictions and sheer geographical distance can become a quagmire. Texas residents, given our state's proximity to Mexico, should make themselves especially aware of what to expect in such a situation.

It appears that American citizens who are battling for custody of their dual-citizen children scored a limited but clear legal victory last week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a child being taken by their parent back to their home country does not render a domestic custody case moot.

Chief Justice John Roberts specifically noted that American courts and laws do not lose jurisdiction merely on account of the other parent and child leaving the country.

The ruling came in connection to an ongoing international child custody battle between an Alabama man and his Scottish wife, who fled the country with the couple's 6-year-old daughter in the middle of their divorce case. An 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judge had ruled that the man's case had been rendered moot by the woman's leaving, as well as the indirect child abduction protection granted to her by the 1980 Hague convention.

Roberts noted specifically that "such return does not render this case moot...there is a possibility of effectual relief for the prevailing parent." Roberts also noted that while American courts can require the Scottish woman to take action despite her current location being outside the U.S., only certain sanctions may be employed in order to keep her compliant. Still, such cases were determined to be most certainly not moot and/or baseless.

For families who have been wrenched apart by a custody battle, the possibility of one parent's move across borders can only exasperate matters. In order to ensure that one's legal case is made as vehemently and quickly as possible, the help and experience of a family law attorney is absolutely invaluable.

Source: KDFW, "Court: US custody case not moot with child abroad," Jesse J. Holland, Feb. 19, 2013

  • The best way to ensure a child custody case is favorably resolved is to act quickly. For more information, contact our Dallas family law page.

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Bruce Turner

In addition to his law degree, Bruce Turner has a master's degree in tax law and is Board Certified in Commercial Real Estate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

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