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International Child Custody & Abduction | Hague Convention

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Hague Convention & International Child Abduction Cases

Houston is an international business hub which results in a diverse population, many of whom are not American citizens. This can result in not only a child custody fight should a relationship end, but with the added stress of international travel or international living considerations. There have been several recent high-profile cases of international child abduction in the news, one notably from the Houston area. Given the risks, it is important to consult with a licensed family law attorney who has expertise in international child custody cases. There are many issues that need to be considered, including the following:

Jurisdiction:

Under the Texas Family Code, a court would have “jurisdiction” (that is, the right to make legal orders by nature of physical proximity) of a child in the county where the child has been living for the previous six months. So by logical conclusion, if it is county specific then it would extend to that state and country that county is located in geographically. For example, if a child resides in Harris County, Texas then a Harris County family court would have jurisdiction over any divorce or custody case. And Texas and the United States would supersede any jurisdictional or venue issues over another country.

Forum Shopping:

Many parents with international ties may try to avoid having their case heard in the United States by sneaking their children to their home country. Some more conservative countries take a naturalist approach to conservatorship and will want a child with ties to that country raised there rather than the United States. This form of child abduction is considered forum shopping.

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Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act

In response to concerns about children in the United States with ties to foreign countries, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act was created.  This law addresses jurisdictional issues in both out-of-state and international cases. It directs courts to uniformly consider factors such as:

  • Where has the child been residing for the previous six months?
  • Would another jurisdiction/country be a better arbiter of the facts?
  • Are there any defenses available (such as fleeing a country due to political upheaval or physical harm/abuse)?
  • Has another court in the child’s home country already assumed jurisdiction?
Hague Convention

As of 2018, there were 98 nations that are signatories to the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention is a system that creates an avenue for (relatively) quick recovery of a child under the age of 16 that has been wrongfully taken to another country. There are many countries that are NOT a signatory to the Hague Convention, so you must check and see if your country of concern is included.

If a country to which a child has been taken is a signatory of the Hague Convention, then the parent from whom the child was taken may file an application for return and the Hague Convention should facilitate the return of the child to his or her home country. There are factors to consider, such as would the child be facing imminent harm or danger, and defenses that may be presented. Assuming none of those factors are present, then the role of the Hague Convention is to return children to their home country and family.

Tips for Dealing with International Abduction:
  1. ACT QUICKLY – Time is of the essence. Contact a family law attorney in your home county (where the child has resided for the previous six months) immediately.
  1. FILE FIRST – It is immensely helpful to get your custody suit (whether it be a divorce or modification) on file first in the proper jurisdiction. Ideally you could get an order from the court requiring that the child be returned to their home country.
  1. Contact the U.S. Consulate or Embassy for assistance.

As you can see, a custody dispute can be intensely complicated and adding international concerns just adds to the complexity. It is vital that a parent dealing with an international custody suit or concerned they may have a future suit should consult with a Board Certified in Family Law Attorney with a history of dealing with complex international cases.  Mary Ramos is Board Certified in Family Law and has extensive experience with dealing with child custody cases involving international abduction or foreign parties. Contact the Ramos Law Group, PLLC if you are going through an international custody dispute or fear one is on the horizon.

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