Supreme Court upholds international child custody terms

For the third time in a four-year period, the Supreme Court heard a case that required the interpretation of terms regarding international child abduction that were set by a Hague Convention. The convention stated that a parent has 12 months to file a motion after the date in which the other parent has taken the child overseas. If the motion is filed on time, the child must return to his or her original country. After the 12-month period, however, a judge may decide that it is not in the child’s best interests to uproot them for custody hearings, as the child may have become “settled” in the new country.

The case that challenged these terms involved a man and woman from Colombia who had a daughter in London after meeting there in 2005. The woman claims that the relationship became abusive, and she left with the child to stay at a women’s shelter in 2008. After moving to France, the woman and her daughter eventually ended up staying in New York.

Meanwhile, it took the man two years of searching to discover that his daughter was in the United States. When he filed the motion to have the girl returned to the UK, he was well past the 12-month deadline. Despite the man arguing that the one-year period should only start after a parent discovers where his child has been taken, the Supreme Court strictly upheld the current terms of the international treaty.

The decision was unanimous, but one of the justices did note that the treaty may encourage abducting parents to keep their child’s whereabouts a secret. However, he also stated that the treaty was not designed to prevent abductions completely. Instead, it’s intended to prevent a child from returning to an abusive situation or being uprooted from a country that’s become their home.

Another justice also stated that a child’s attachment to a new home may not be the only factor that a judge will consider in cases such as these. Ultimately, judges have discretion when making rulings in international child custody cases. However, any Maryland parent whose child has been taken to another country should keep this ruling in mind. Legal assistance should be sought if there’s any chance that the 12-month deadline could be missed.

Source: The Washington Post, “Supreme Court says it cannot alter deadline set by international accord on child abduction” Robert Barnes, Mar. 05, 2014