How to Resolve an International Child Custody Dispute

a young child sitting on a luggage at the airport

ChaoShu Li/Stocksy

If you're engaged in an international child custody dispute, or you fear that your ex could take your children out of the country against your will, you need to know how various child custody laws and statues can protect your children and help you resolve an international custody battle quickly and safely. There are several things you can do to get your children back in an international child custody dispute.

Consult a Lawyer

Consult a family law attorney with experience resolving international child custody cases. They will be able to represent your interests across international borders and help to ensure fair and timely court proceedings. In some cases, an experienced attorney can also help determine where your ex currently lives and proactively negotiate to secure the prompt, voluntary, and safe return of your children.

Read the Hague Convention

Become familiar with the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also known as the Hague Convention. This international treaty exists to protect kids from international abductions. It applies only in jurisdictions that have signed the convention and its reach is limited to children ages 16 and under.

As of 2019, 96 nations are members of the convention, including all of North America and most of Europe. "The Hague Convention is not substantive custody law, meaning custody rights of parents will not be resolved under the Convention. Rather, it is a process to ensure that custody issues are heard in the appropriate court, according to Peskind Law Firm. "Where countries are not signatories to the Hague Convention, other procedures must be used to resolve the matter, including intervention by the United States State Department and use of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act."

Essentially, the Hague Convention helps families more quickly revert back to their original or "status quo" child custody arrangement, prior to the unlawful relocation of the children. "In the case of two parents with equal custody rights over a child, the consent of both parents is generally necessary in order for a child to be removed from the home country," notes to Peskind Law. "When a dispute arises concerning custody of a child between countries that are signatories of the Hague Convention, the courts of the country to which the child is brought is obligated to return the child, if that court finds the return to be appropriate. Under the Hague Convention, the return proceedings are to last no longer than six weeks."

Take Protective Steps in the U.S.

Most U.S. states have adopted the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA), which offers protections to parents who are concerned about the possibility of custody-related parental abduction. If you already have a child custody order in place, or you have a custody hearing coming up, you can file a petition under the UCAPA to address your specific concerns. This allows the judge to put limits on your ex's ability to leave the country with your kids in tow.

Keep in Touch With Your Kids

Try to maintain a positive relationship with your children, despite the distance. While it's not the same as your presence, sending pictures, letters, and money can show your kids you care, despite the circumstances. If possible, call and video chat regularly to stay present in their lives. Basically, do anything that will help strengthen the bond between you and your children.

Factors to Consider When Dealing With a Foreign Court

In addition to the actual laws and whether the jurisdiction you're dealing with is part of the Hague Convention, consider whether there are cultural or religious beliefs that could impact your case.

Some international jurisdictions may have a preference for granting sole physical custody to mothers. Similarly, judges in other regions may lean toward granting custody to fathers. Knowing about these issues upfront can help you more effectively prepare for your case.

Consider Relocating While You Work to Get Your Children Back

International custody disputes are very difficult to navigate for parents, attorneys, and government officials. While unfortunate, you may need to consider temporarily moving to the country where your children have been relocated until the matter is resolved, since international child custody cases can be quite lengthy. 

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