I feel the need to stress – yet again – that a parent or would-be parent who travels for an extended period of time overseas with a spouse or partner should think first about the possibility of your kids being required to stay overseas against your wishes in the event you have a disagreement with the other parent.
It is very often absolutely essential to speak first to a truly knowledgeable and experienced international family lawyer about the consequences of your actions and any ways to reduce the risk.
In many respects the laws that govern these issues are counter-intuitive. For example, I get numerous calls in which American parents insist that, as U.S. nationals, they “know” that a U.S. court will never send their child back to another country just because that is where the other parent is living. Unfortunately for such parents their belief is absolutely wrong.
Likewise, parents often tell me that, simply because they made a deal with the other parent that they would stay away for just a year or two before going ”back home,” their custody case must be brought in their home country and cannot be brought in the place of their temporary residence. Again, such a claim is often dead wrong.
And some parents tell me that because they are not Muslims they “know” that a Sharia law country will be unable to rule on their case.
Each of these claims has been proven wrong, time after time, in cases that have crossed my desk.
There are extremely serious civil law and criminal law issues that such cases often raise and there is a powerful international treaty that may have a hugely significant impact.
Moreover, the laws concerning child custody jurisdiction that apply in every U.S. state are most unusual in that they require the courts in each U.S. state to give far more deference to the jurisdiction of foreign courts in custody matters than the courts in most other countries will give to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
When it comes to international child custody issues, the adage “look before you leap” means that you need to talk to me, or to another experienced international family lawyer, first, before you take off on your sabbatical in Oxford, your 2-year post in Hong Kong, or your indefinite gig in Rio. The consequences of not doing so can be absolutely heartbreaking.
* Jeremy D. Morley consults on international family law matters with clients globally, always working with local counsel as appropriate. He may be reached at +1- 212-372-3425 and through his website, www.international-divorce.com. Jeremy has handled hundreds of child custody and abduction cases and has written the leading treatises on international family law.