International Custody Laws: International Child Custody Agreements

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 What is a Custody Order, and What Are the Benefits?

A child custody order is a type of court order that specifies the arrangements for child custody and/or the schedule for child visitation in a divorce case. In particular, a child custody order will give a custodial parent the right to make important decisions concerning the child’s upbringing as well as the right to have the child physically live with them. 

It should be noted, however, that child custody arrangements can involve many different forms and may afford certain rights to both parents. 

As for the benefits of a child custody order, these orders can be useful even when the other parent is no longer part of a child’s life. A child custody order gives the active parent specific legal rights that they might not otherwise have, such as being able to obtain a passport for their child without having to get permission from the other biological parent. 

In addition, a child custody order can be especially useful in situations where the other parent lives in a foreign country in which it may be difficult to reach them to ask for their permission, or when a parent wants to move to a different state or country with the child. 

For instance, if a custodial parent wishes to move to another state or country with their child, then they must submit a petition to a judge to have them modify the child custody order. A parent who moves to a new location with the child before getting a court’s approval can be charged for the crime of kidnapping pursuant to numerous federal laws, including the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act or simply, the UCCJEA. 

On the other hand, despite the fact that there are two federal laws that strictly prohibit moving a child to a different country without the court’s permission, many foreign countries refuse to enforce United States child custody orders when a parent relocates to their country. This is especially true in cases where a parent makes the move in order to avoid being prosecuted for violating a child support and/or child custody order.

Thus, it is very important that you follow the guidelines provided in a child custody, visitation, or support order. Violating the terms of a child custody order or completely ignoring that one exists can lead to both civil and criminal consequences. For example, if you are convicted of kidnapping because you moved your child without modifying a child custody order, not only may you receive a prison sentence, but you may also lose your parental rights over that child.

Therefore, if you have any questions about a child custody order or need assistance with a dispute over a child custody order, then you should contact a local child custody lawyer immediately for further legal guidance.

Are Child Support Orders Enforceable in Foreign Countries?

As previously mentioned, many foreign countries will not enforce a United States child custody order against a parent who moves to another country in order to avoid being prosecuted for not abiding by the terms of a child support or child custody order. This happens to be a common issue that arises in child custody disputes. 

For example, a biological parent may attempt to remove a child from their home county and relocate them to a foreign country without the consent of the other biological parent. When this situation occurs, the parent who resides in the child’s home country may be able to invoke certain protections that are provided by a treaty known as the Hague Convention Treaty.

One of the main purposes of the Hague Convention Treaty is to reinstate the original child custody arrangement that existed prior to the parent’s removal of that child from their home country and to prevent that parent from traveling to a country with a more lenient court or laws. However, the Treaty will only apply to children who are minors and are under the age of 16.

In some countries, the Hague Convention Treaty may also permit a parent living in the United States to pursue private legal action against a parent who has moved to another country with their child. 

A parent who resides in the United States and is facing this type of legal issue should consult a child custody lawyer who handles international child custody disputes immediately. 

A child custody lawyer who has experience in overseeing cases involving international child custody disputes will be familiar with the proper international laws on the subject, can assist a parent in taking private legal action in certain countries, and can help them navigate the international laws and the legal systems in those countries. 

What Remedies are Available Under the Hague Convention?

As discussed above, the Hague Convention, also known as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, is an international treaty that was enacted by the United States in 1980 in order to address issues related to international child abductions. 

The primary motives behind this treaty are to prevent international child abductions from happening and also to provide a legal process for the prompt return of any child who is abducted back to their home country. However, it is important to note that the treaty will only apply and provide protections in countries that have signed the treaty. 

Accordingly, the remedies that are offered by the Hague Convention Treaty will be limited only to those situations wherein a child has been abducted from their home country and taken to a country that has signed the Hague Convention. In addition, the Hague Convention treaty does not provide any substantive custody rights; only judicial proceedings to return an abducted child to their home country where a court can legally enforce a valid child custody order. 

Thus, the only remedy that the Hague Convention Treaty offers is to return a child who has been abducted to their home country. All other remedies will need to come from a court located in their home country. Hence, why it is so difficult to resolve international custody battles. 

Can A Non-U.S. Citizen Get Custody of a Child?

According to several decisions issued by the United States Supreme Court, parenting issues are one of the only areas in which a person’s immigration status is largely irrelevant. Non-U.S. citizens are afforded the same rights that a U.S. citizen has when it comes to seeking custody over a child. However, the non-U.S. citizen’s status may affect the strength of their case and their ability to retain physical custody, but this will depend on the facts of each individual case.

Regardless of a person’s status, the court will use the same standard that it applies to all child custody disputes in the United States, namely, the child’s best interest standard. Thus, if the court decides that a parent who is a non-U.S. citizen is better equipped to raise the child and the country that they live in is safe and not in the middle of any conflicts (e.g., war), then that parent may very well be awarded custody of the child.

How Do I Get a Child Custody When the Other Parent Resides in a Foreign Country?

There are many unique challenges that can arise when attempting to get custody of a child and the other parent resides in a different foreign country. Therefore, anyone who is trying to gain custody over a child and is in this situation, should consult a family law attorney who has experience in dealing with such matters.

In general, some legal actions that the parent residing in the United States can take to initiate the process include:

  • Filing for legal separation or divorce from the other parent;
  • Filing a petition for child custody and/or child support in a court located in the country where the child has resided for at least the last six months (i.e., their home country by law); and/or
  • If the parents of the child are not married and/or the other spouse is not presumed to be the father of the child, then a parent can file an action to establish paternity.

Should I Hire an Attorney if I Have Foreign Country Child Custody Issues?

As is evident from the above discussion, it is often extremely difficult to resolve international child custody issues. These cases tend to be very complex since every country has its own laws and procedural requirements. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to hire a child custody lawyer who has extensive experience in dealing with foreign country child custody issues.

Your lawyer will be able to assist you with the process of enforcing a child custody order when the other parent moves to another country with your child. Your lawyer will also be able to help you in recovering remedies from a local family law court once your child is safely returned to their home country. 


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