International travel, the Internet, educational opportunities, immigration and global commerce make our modern world more and more culturally interconnected. As a result, relationships and marriages between people from different countries are common nowadays. Florida is known for its multicultural population, so we have our share of intercultural marriages.
But when such a marriage breaks down and the parties have children, unique issues of child custody and parental access can arise. During and after a divorce, when one parent has ties to another country, they might consider taking the kids to that parent’s homeland — with or without the other parent’s or the Florida court’s consent.
Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
The Hague Convention is a multinational treaty that more than 90 countries have signed, including ours. When a parent removes a child from their country of “habitual residence” without permission or remains abroad with the child instead of returning home as planned, if both the home country and the country where the child was taken are member nations of the Convention, the courts of the country where the child is present have jurisdiction to decide whether the child (if under age 16) should return to their habitual residence.
The foreign court would normally order the child returned home if their parent took them or kept them abroad without the other parent’s permission or in violation of an order of the home country’s courts. As we previously wrote in a blog about the Convention, there are six exceptions the foreign court may apply in unique circumstances making it desirable for the child to remain abroad.
Avoid allowing children to travel to countries not parties to the Convention
A parent concerned about the potential of the other parent wrongfully taking their child abroad (or not returning with them) should try to restrict the child’s travel to Hague Convention member countries. At least there is a duty of the foreign country to follow its obligations under the treaty as well as U.S. State Department support and assistance with a Hague application.
It can be much more difficult if the country at issue is not a Hague signatory. It will not have the treaty obligations of the Convention and access to its courts and law enforcement may be more difficult, leaving fewer real options.
Speak with an attorney as early as possible, even before the child leaves the U.S., especially if you fear abduction. Your lawyer can provide advice about steps to try to keep the child at home or prevent parental abduction, perhaps involving Florida courts, the State Department and law enforcement. If the child is already abroad, legal counsel will advise you of your rights according to the Hague Convention or otherwise.
On the other side, if you are a parent who legitimately wants to take your child abroad to visit family or learn about your home culture, a lawyer can advise you of what steps to take to legally do so.