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U.S. Supreme Court rules on international child custody issue

Disputes over child custody are always gut-wrenching experiences that contain many levels of human drama. When the case acquires an international dimension, the complexity and difficulties of child custody battles are magnified greatly. The U.S. Supreme Court recently clarified for Illinois and the rest of the country an important family law principle regarding child custody jurisdiction.

The Court ruled that where a child is taken legally from this country to a foreign country by a custodial parent and remains there for over one year, the courts here do not lose the authority, i.e., the jurisdiction, to continue to decide the case. The unanimous family law ruling reversed a federal appeals court that had refused to hear a father's appeal. The appeals court had ruled that the child custody case was moot, i.e., that there was no continuing dispute to decide.

The Supreme Court reversal re-opened the doors for the father, a U.S. Army Sergeant, to continue his child custody appeal. The girl is with the custodial parent, her mother, in Scotland. It was unclear whether the father had exercised any visitation in the meantime. The court explained that the power of the courts here to decide the case never stopped, even though a federal trial judge gave the mother permission to take the girl to Scotland.

The dispute arose when the parties divorced in 2010, and the mother sued to take the child with her to Scotland. The Supreme Court ruled that, even if the mother fails to cooperate with a later order by a United States court to return the child, that result would merely raise uncertainty. It would not, however, totally preclude the father's chances of succeeding in getting the mother's compliance.

In Illinois if divorcing parents face a child custody issue - either of local, national or international scope - it may sometimes be resolved as a part of a comprehensive family law agreement coming out of divorce negotiations. If the matter is hotly contested, however, then the custody dispute will follow a separate track mainly unrelated to the divorce. If so, a parent will likely want to consult closely with a child custody practitioner to prepare and effectively present his or her best case.

Source: Yahoo! News, "Court: US custody case not moot with child abroad," Jesse J. Holland, Feb. 19, 2013

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