When a child is removed from the United States by a parent, or retained in a country not the United States beyond an agreed-to period of time, and in violation of a parent’s custodial rights, the left-behind parent is left feeling hopeless. Why? Because each country is a sovereign nation with its own judicial system, laws, and law enforcement, and a custody order from a United States court may not be recognized by a court abroad. In this age of increased international tourism and travel, as well as the growth of ethnically diverse, multi-national families, the widespread adoption of a piece of uniform legislation that facilitates the return of abducted children is paramount. Thus, we have the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“Hague Convention”).
What is the Hague Convention?
The Hague Convention, concluded in October 1980 and entered into force between the signatory nations in December 1983, is a multilateral treaty that addresses international parental abduction of children. The Convention has 72 member/signatory countries, and it reconciles the fact that every country has its own legal and judicial systems. How? By developing uniform legislation that promotes the return of abducted children to their place of habitual residence. Essentially, if a child is abducted, in violation of the left-behind parent’s custodial rights, from one signatory country to another, or wrongfully retained outside the signatory country of the child’s habitual residence in another signatory country, the Convention facilitates the prompt return of the child to their country of habitual residence.
Note that the Convention merely addresses where a custody case should be heard; not the custody dispute and/or determination itself. Upon the child’s return, the country of the child’s habitual residence has jurisdiction to resolve the outstanding issues of custody.
Applying to the Hague Convention for Help
In order to apply to the Convention for help, a petitioning parent must demonstrate that:
- The child was a habitual resident of a signatory country;
- The child was removed to or wrongfully retained in another signatory country;
- The child was removed or retained in violation of the left-behind parent’s custodial rights; and
- The child is under the age of 16 at the time the petition is filed.
However, a signatory country does not have to return a child if:
- The petitioning parent was not exercising custodial rights at the time of removal or retention;
- The petitioning parent acquiesced to the child’s removal or retention;
- The petitioning parent petitions more than one year after the wrongful removal or retention;
- The child will be exposed to physical or psychological harm if returned to their habitual residence;
- The child, who has reached an age and degree of maturity, objects to the return; or
- The child’s return will violate the fundamental principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the country where the child is presently being held.
Prevention of International Parental Abduction
If you suspect that the other parent plans to leave the country with your child, and if your child is under the age of 18 and a United States citizen, you can register your child for the U.S. Department of State’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program. The program alerts all U.S. passport agencies, U.S. embassies, and U.S. consulates, both domestic and abroad, that a parent or legal guardian of the child has requested an alert or filed an objection to passport issuance. The parent or legal guardian who registered the child will also be notified of any activity regarding the issuance or renewal of a child’s passport.
If your child has been removed from the United States, wrongfully retained outside the United States, or if you suspect that a potential removal or retention is imminent, or if you have had a Hague Convention application filed against you, it is important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible.
Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of experienced family lawyers across offices in Fairfax, Arlington, Ashburn, Manassas, and Fredericksburg, representing clients across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.