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Supreme Court will hear international child custody case

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving child abduction and international child custody rights. When decided in 2013, the case could have wide implications, including affecting service members who have children with non-U.S. nationals.

A U.S. Army sergeant brought the case to the Supreme Court after a U.S. District Court judge ruled that his daughter had to return to Scotland under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The sergeant's daughter had been living with her mother (and the sergeant's wife) in Scotland since 2007. In February 2010, the wife travelled to visit the sergeant in Alabama. During that visit, the couple divorced and an Alabama judge awarded custody to the sergeant.

In October 2011, the U.S. District Court judge reversed the lower court's order because she believed the daughter's residence in Scotland was her "habitual residence." According to the attorneys representing the father, however, the decision does not jive with other federal appeals court decisions because it effectively states that when a child leaves a jurisdiction, no matter the reason, then courts must determine that the child's residence is the place he or she moved - leaving the U.S. parent powerless.

This decision may also go against other Circuit Court decisions that state that a parent who abducts a child and brings him or her to another country should not receive custody.

The Hague Convention is frequently used in custody disputes involving military service personnel and can present difficult issues such as this one. The U.S. Supreme Court must now decide where the line is drawn when a child has lived in another country due to one parent's military service.

Source: Reuters, "Supreme Court to hear international child custody dispute," Jonathan Stempel, Terry Barnes, Aug. 13, 2012.

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