California Child Custody & the Supreme Court

An important Supreme Court decision issued last week may have implications for Orange County and other Southern California parents involved in Orange County child custody cases that stretch across borders.

By a vote of 6-3 the court overturned rulings by both a federal district court and a circuit court and held that an American mother acted illegally when she brought her son to the United States from Chile in violation of a Chilean court order, according to the Associated Press. The child, born in Hawaii, is, like his mother, a US citizen. The boy’s father is British, but the family lived in Chile and the parents were divorced there. Their divorce order gave the mother custody. While the father had only visitation rights, he also benefitted from a Chilean court order giving him “the authority to consent before the other parent takes the child to another country,” the AP reports.

It was this violation that the father sought to enforce in US courts, citing the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, a treaty ratified by more than 80 countries, including the United States. In a dissent Justice John Paul Stevens, who plans to retire from the court this summer, argued that since the father does not have formal custodial rights the treaty offered him no relief. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, however, countered that “deterring child abductions by parents who attempt to find a friendlier forum for deciding custodial disputes” is precisely what the treaty was designed to prevent.

Custody disputes are never easy, and child custody disputes that stretch across borders are often unusually complicated. Like most communities within a few hundred miles of the border we here in Orange County have more than our share of international custody issues. Finding an Orange County child custody visitation lawyer with expertise in international child custody issues is especially important if a divorcing couple are of different nationalities, or if you fear a former spouse may flee to a foreign country with your children.

AP: Justices: Child should have stayed in Chile

National Law Journal: International Abduction Treaty Trumps Parental Rights, Says U.S. Supreme Court