BY: LORIE FOWLKE
(Please understand that the answers to these questions are general in nature and may not cover every individual situation.)
Yes, I have handled other international custody cases. Early on in my career- about fifteen years ago- I handled a case that dealt with an American father and a Swedish mother. The two got married in America, and when they divorced, the mother stole the child and fled to Sweden. The father went to Sweden and stole the child back. Both parties filed in their own country of origin, and both countries found the other parent in contempt. Warrants for their arrests were issued. Then, the mother came to the United States, obtained an attorney, and became the first person to file under the Hague Convention. By the time she filed, the child had been gone for more than a year, so that was a problem for the father. However, the federal court ordered that the mother could visit with the child for two weeks prior to the next hearing. While she had the child with her, she stole the child and returned to Sweden. She then pursued the case all the way to the Supreme Court of both countries. The United States concluded that it had jurisdiction and that the father should have custody, while Sweden concluded that they had jurisdiction and that the mother should have custody. Sweden would not let the father back in the country and the mother could not go to the United States without getting arrested. The father actually took the case all the way to Hague Court in the Netherlands which found that the United States was correct; Sweden did not have jurisdiction. However, this finding was denied by Sweden, and the father never saw his daughter again. This case exemplifies the high stakes of international custody battles and underscores the importance of obtaining an attorney who knows what they are doing and can do it quickly.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME TO GET YOUR LAW FIRM INVOLVED IN AN INTERNATIONAL CUSTODY CASE?
If there is an international custody dispute, my law firm can take over in any capacity. However, we can only litigate in the United States. If a person wants to litigate in a foreign country, they would have to find counsel in that country. I suspect that the consulate and the state departments of other countries also keep a list of attorneys who are versed in this sort of law, but I wouldn’t just pick a name arbitrarily. Instead, I would interview several of them in order to determine how many cases they have handled and whether or not they have been successful.
IS THE OTHER PARTY REQUIRED TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY AS WELL IN AN INTERNATIONAL CUSTODY CASE?
Whether or not the other party would be required to hire an attorney in an international custody case depends on where the case started. Both the United States and the Hague Convention have rules on which country has jurisdiction. For example, if the parties were married and living in Brazil, and the father took the child to the Unites States, the mother could file for divorce in Brazil and attempt to have the father served, in which case they may have to litigate in Brazil. However, if the father had residence in the United States and waited long enough, he could file in the United States. An international dispute over which country had jurisdiction would ensue, which would be a very different fight. In any case, depending on who files what and where it is filed, a situation involving attorneys in both countries is possible.
It is important to know that these cases are huge financial undertakings. My client created a GoFundMe account, and fundraisers were held all over the country for her. If a person is really going to engage in this kind of a fight, they need to be aware of the financial cost. However, it ends up being worth it for many of our clients.
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