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How Does Child Custody Work if Parents Live in Different Countries?

Separations and divorces where children are involved can easily become a messy situation if the parties have trouble agreeing on child custody and/or support. The potential for complications quickly escalates if the parents live in different location as they try to negotiate time schedules for seeing the child and determining who will pay for travel costs. And, the further apart the parents live, the harder it often is to find agreement. Parents that live in different countries face a particularly complicated situation because of possible differing and competing laws governing child custody. Unfortunately, many of these cases involve allegations of abduction after one parent refuses to return or send the child to the other. A mother from Florida recently won her case to keep her son in the United States and away from her husband in Honduras. She met and married the boy’s father while living in Honduras, but decided to seek a divorce after episodes of physical violence and verbal abuse. While she signed an agreement to return to Honduras with her son, the court ruled she could stay in the United States since the agreement was entered into under duress, both parents intended the boy to stay with the mother, and the boy had lived in the U.S. for most of his life. A key thing to understand about international child custody cases is that they involve multiple laws, including international treaties, which adds many layers of complexity.

Florida’s Relocation Statute

Florida, like many states, has a statute that addresses parent/child relocations when the parents share custody. Any time a parent wants to relocate with a child he/she must notify the court of the intent to move. Under Florida law, there is no presumption for or against a move, and instead, the court will assess whether the move is in the best interest of the child. International moves are usually scrutinized more closely, with a judge probing more deliberately into reasons behind the move, the conditions in which the child will live in the new country, and how far away the child will be from the parent.

Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

The UCCJEA comes into play if there is an existing child custody order that needs to be enforced, or there is a custody dispute with a parent that lives in another state. This law allows a child’s home state (where the child has lived with a parent for the previous six months) to exercise jurisdiction over child custody disputes regardless of where the original custody order was issued. It also permits courts from different states to work together when the child has significant connections to more than one state in order to avoid shifting the child around and potentially causing harm. Importantly, it is also intended to deter abductions by not allowing parents to forum shop their custody case to obtain a favorable decision.

The Hague Convention Treaty

The provisions of this treaty concern how to deal with child abductions between countries that are signatories to this agreement. The goal is to return the child to the home country as quickly as possible so the home country‚Äôs legal systems can decide any custody disputes. Basically, if a child is removed from the U.S. and taken to another country that recognizes this treaty, the parent must contact the U.S. State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues to initiate a “petition for return.” The petition is transmitted to the other country and the abduction claims are heard in its court. If the country is not a signatory to this treaty, the parent is forced to rely on the foreign country’s law to settle custody, but abduction will likely not be taken into consideration.

Get Legal Advice

Child custody disputes are overwhelming for any parent and require an experienced family law attorney to effectively represent a parent’s rights and interests to the court. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A., understands how important and emotional this issue is for parents, and will work to get the solution the parent desires. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

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