Supreme Court to hear case on international custody rights

Child custody actions are among the most contentious and emotionally charged types of cases heard by family courts, in Massachusetts and elsewhere. When those cases involve an international custody rights twist, the legalities become far more complicated, and many would argue that the stakes are higher for the parent who faces being left behind when a child relocates abroad. One such case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the outcome will clarify the ability of courts in our country to hear appeals in cases in which the child is no longer on American soil.

The case centers on an American father who is a member of the U.S. Army. He met and married a Scottish woman, and the two had a daughter together. Their marriage has a troubled history, and they are moving toward a divorce. They have also been struggling in court over the care and custody of their little girl.

In Oct. 2011, a judge ruled that the child be returned to her mother’s care in Scotland. The father had asked that he retain custody of the child in the U.S., but the court ruled that he failed to prove that the child was a habitual resident of the United States. The father appealed that decision, but his appeal was dismissed on the grounds that the U.S. courts lack the ability to rule on an appeal that was entered after the child has left the country.

As this case moves forward, the Supreme Court will consider where the lines are drawn concerning a parent’s ability to pursue a case through appeal when the child or children have left the country. While this may seem like a narrow legal issue, there are many families that are comprised of one or more parents who are foreign nationals, even when the child may be an American citizen. This scenario is especially prominent among military families, including many in Massachusetts. Many fear that if the decision of the appellate court stands, parents will be encouraged to flee the country with their children to avoid going through a custody rights case in the United States.

Source:, “Fort Stewart soldier’s fight for daughter reaches Supreme Court,” Marcus E. Howard, Dec. 5, 2012

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