Supreme Court To Resolve Circuit Split In Hague Convention Cases

The United States Supreme Court has decided to review a case brought under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Abduction Convention) to answer the following question: Does an appeal of a District Court's ruling on a petition for return of children pursuant to the Hague Abduction Convention become moot after the child at issue returns to his or her country of "habitual residence"?

The Hague Abduction Convention

The Hague Abduction Convention is a treaty signed by the United States and many other countries. The purpose of the treaty is to establish procedures to prevent children from being wrongfully removed from their normal country of residence, or "habitual residence," as it is called in the treaty. By signing the treaty, a country agrees to promptly return children within its jurisdiction who were wrongfully removed from their normal country of residence, provided their normal country of residence has also signed the treaty. The treaty does not address who should have custody of a child, but rather where it should be addressed.

The case: Chafin v. Chafin

The case before the U.S. Supreme Court involves a child custody dispute between U.S. Army Sgt. Jeffrey Chafin and his Scottish-born wife, Lynne Chafin. The couple met and married in Germany, where they continued to live after the marriage until relocating to Alabama. The couple had one child, a daughter who is now 5. After moving back to the States, the marriage deteriorated, and a dispute soon arose over the custody of their child. It was in this context that Lynne Chafin obtained a court order from a federal District Court declaring Scotland in the United Kingdom the girl's "habitual residence" for purposes of the Hague Abduction Convention.

After the District Court issued its order, Jeffrey Chafin filed an appeal and Lynne Chafin took her daughter and relocated to Scotland. Jeffrey Chafin's appeal, which he filed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, was a challenge to the District Court's conclusion that his daughter's "habitual residence" was Scotland, arguing instead that it was the United States. The 11th Circuit dismissed his appeal, concluding that the appeal was rendered moot when his daughter was returned to Scotland, her "habitual residence."

Following the 11th Circuit's dismissal, Jeffrey Chafin filed a petition to have his case reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. In his petition, he argued that Supreme Court review was necessary to resolve a Circuit split on the issue of whether the return of a child to his or her "habitual residence" renders an appeal on that issue moot; the 11th Circuit says it does, but the 4th Circuit says the District Court retains jurisdiction to resolve the competing legal rights of parents. The Supreme Court granted Jeffrey Chafin's petition for review. Oral argument in the case of Chafin v. Chafin (docket 11-1347) is schedule for Wednesday, December 5, 2012. The Court's decision is expected in mid-2013.

Help with international child custody and family law matters

An attorney experienced in international family law matters can provide the guidance necessary to navigate the intricate process of determining which country's laws apply and how it will affect the outcome of a child custody or other legal proceeding. Contact a lawyer qualified and experienced in international child custody issues, especially those falling under the Hague Convention.