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High Court Considers International Child Custody Case

Posted on in Child Custody

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case involving an international child custody dispute in which the child has already left the U.S. On December 5, 2012, the Court heard arguments regarding the interpretation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty that is designed to protect against the abduction of children to other countries, even by their parents. The outcome of this case could directly affect U.S. military personnel and other U.S. citizens who share children with foreign citizens and later separate or divorce.

In the case pending before the Court, Jeffrey Chafin, a U.S. Army sergeant, has appealed the ruling of a lower court that awarded custody of his now five-year-old daughter to her mother, Lynne Chafin, a Scottish national. The mother and child had lived in Scotland since 2007 due to Chafin's work-related travels. In 2010, the Chafins and their child reunited in Alabama briefly, but were unable to save their marriage. Divorce proceedings began, and Mrs. Chafin was deported for overstaying her visa. As a result, she sued pursuant to the Hague Convention in order to have her daughter returned to Scotland.

In October, 2011, a federal judge ruled in Mrs. Chafin's favor, finding that Scotland was the daughter's "habitual residence" under the Hague Convention. Hours later, Mrs. Chafin and her daughter returned to Scotland. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit later dismissed Chafin's appeal as moot, since the child already had returned to Scotland.

While the Court is not likely to issue its ruling until toward the end of its term in June, 2013, a few of the justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, reportedly expressed concerns about Chafin's inability to appeal the matter as moot, as well as the potential impact that a U.S. ruling could have on the Scottish courts, which are now considering the issue of the child's custody.

Whether a child custody dispute is international or domestic in nature, the proceedings can be lengthy, complicated, and stressful. During these proceedings, it is essential that you have the guidance of an experienced Wheaton, Illinois child custody attorney to help you.

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