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Supreme Court Decides International Child Custody Case

Family law is an area of law that is almost always left to the states to develop, and it rarely involves serious constitutional questions. Consequently, it is uncommon to see the U.S. Supreme Court take a family law case. However, it does happen occasionally, and the Court recently issued a decision in just such a case, Lozano v. Alvarez. The issue in the case was one of child custody, but it was unique because it had to do with international parents. This left the Court interpreting an international treaty on child custody issues, which would decide how this international child custody case should be decided.

Lozano v. Alvarez

The Lozano case had to do with two parents from England who had a young daughter. In late 2008, the mother left the husband and took the daughter with her, alleging that the husband had been abusing her. The mother and daughter came to New York to live with some of the mothers relatives. The husband attempted to track them down, and he eventually did so, 16 months later. After finding them, he petitioned the U.S. courts to return the child to England, so that English courts could make a decision on child custody.

The husband made this petition under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty that, among other things, lays out rules for how to handle situations where one parent wrongfully takes a child to another country. In most instances, the treaty automatically requires courts to compel the return of the child for a proper custody decision. However, there is an exception to that rule if the child has been living in another country for more than a year. The husband argued that that time limit should not apply to him because the mother hid the child, and it took him over a year to find them.

Competing Interests

The Supreme Court took this case, and had to deal with two competing interests. Sticking strictly to the time limit may have been the best thing for the daughter. That limit exists because moving a child from country to country can be a disruptive experience, and it is likely that after a year the child would have adjusted to life in the new country. Uprooting them again would be difficult. However, sticking to the limit would also encourage parents to take their children to another country since they would simply need to run out the clock in order to keep them. Ultimately, the Court did decide to stick to the stringent time limit, citing the fact that the treaty made no exception in cases where a parent conceals the child.

Child custody disputes, even purely domestic ones, can still be high stakes. If you have questions about your child custody dispute, contact an experienced Naperville divorce attorney today.

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