Someday, when moms are from Venus and dads are from Mars, literally, current issues associated with international divorces and custody battles may not seem all that complicated. However, by today’s standards, custody disputes involving parents from different countries pose some of the most emotionally charged and complex scenarios litigated in U.S. courts. Based on what the media presents as examples, such as recent international parental kidnapping cases and what might come up in Tiger Woods’ custody hearings, it is easy to see the need for legal help before parents take drastic measures.
The Tiger Woods Case
One highly visible example of an impending celebrity divorce that will eventually involve international child custody issues is the break-up of Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren. Tiger is a U.S. citizen, but he has dual citizenship in Thailand, where his mother was born. Elin was born in Sweden and has dual citizenship in the U.S. because of her marriage to Tiger. Additionally, their kids may well have dual citizenship between the U.S. and Sweden. Regardless of the citizenship issues, the divorce and custody case will most likely be filed and adjudicated in Florida. The divorce will then follow the typical divorce process which takes place in the U.S. state court.
State Laws Applied to International Issues
National child custody and relocation matters are litigated in state courts, so there are more than 50 different applicable sets of laws. State family law judges must analyze individual case circumstances to decide what is in the best interests of the child when applying the relevant statutes and determining international custody issues. According to experts in these cases, state courts use the same criteria when relocations or visitations involve international travel. While this may seem to make sense for some people, it sometimes does not resolve the more complex cases involving countries who do not follow accepted international practices.
Hague Convention on Child Abduction
When custody disputes involve immigrants to the U.S., especially those with a temporary status, courts may look to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 (commonly referred to simply as the "Hague Convention") for guidance or enforcement. While not every country has signed on to the Hague Convention, which seeks to return abducted children to their homes and ensure the rights of the custodian in foreign countries, there is still international pressure to follow its provisions.
Take the recent cases in the media of two mothers who took their U.S.-born children to their home countries of Brazil and Japan. Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, so the father in that case has not been able to gain any legal ground in Japanese courts to visit or return to the U.S. with his children. Brazil is a signatory, however, so that father was able to use the Brazilian courts to exercise his parental rights. He returned home with his son late last year. Fortunately for Woods, Sweden is a signatory.
Prevent Drastic Measures
U.S. lawmakers continue to work on a bill to pass the International Child Abduction Prevention Act, which will aid in enforcement of the Hague Convention with regard to child abduction. The bill is currently in a House of Representatives committee, but the time to be aware of these issues is now. When it comes to dealing with international divorces that will involve child custody, relocation or visitation conflicts between different countries, the sooner you seek legal counsel, the better the chances of a successful resolution. No divorcing parent should have to worry about their former spouse taking the drastic measure of moving their children to another country without their consent and without a return ticket to the U.S.