The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this month in an international child custody case of a soldier who had been based in Alabama when this case first started.
Our Birmingham child custody attorneys know that the decision reached in this case could have far-reaching implications for future international custody disputes – particularly for soldiers serving active duty in the military.
Here’s what happened, according to multiple media sources:
An American soldier met, fell in love and married a woman he met in Germany. She was from Scotland.
The two had a child together, a little girl.
But then, as happens with many marriages, things got rocky. He was stationed in Alabama, and the girl lived with him on base while the couple attempted to work things out.
They weren’t able to do so.
Then, the girl’s mother was allegedly arrested for domestic violence and public intoxication. She was deported to Scotland. While there, the mother filed a petition under the Hague Convention’s treaty on International Civil Abduction.
Since then, numerous lower courts have made conflicting determinations about which entity has jurisdiction. Is it in Alabama, where the two had lived together with the child? Is it Scotland, where the mother lives now? Is it in Georgia, where the father is now based?
A federal court in Alabama, the most recent to issue a ruling, determined in October 2011 that the child’s "habitual residence" is in Scotland, which meant the girl was sent to Scotland, and the Scottish courts hold jurisdiction over the custody case.
The Supreme Court has decided to take on the case because the lower courts have not been able to agree on the provisions laid forth in the Hague treaty. The soldier is hopeful that the court will interpret the treaty differently than the lower courts.
A family law attorney for the soldier said the Alabama court erred in saying it has no jurisdiction. He hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will set one rule for the entire nation with regard to jurisdiction of these cases.
If the Supreme Court sides with the soldier on the issue of jurisdiction, it is believed the case would then revert back to the lower court in Alabama to be appealed.
Soldiers in particular struggle with jurisdictional issues in child custody cases because their jobs require them to be constantly on the move.
It can be particularly difficult when the military member is deployed overseas, leaving him or her vulnerable to losing their custodial arrangements because they can’t be present in court.
Statutes that protect military members from this kind of action vary widely from state-to-state. In 2010, Alabama legislators proposed a measure that would have protected parents who were deployed overseas by the military from being construed as waiving any rights with regard to custody or visitation. That measure was stalled in committee.
Now, many advocates are pushing the enactment of a federal measure, known as the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, that would essentially do the same – and make such protections standard across the country. This measure is pending.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court decision on the Alabama child custody case can be expected sometime next spring.
If you are dealing with a child custody issue in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Overland Park father heads to Supreme Court in international custody battle, Dec. 5, 2012, By Emily Rittman, KCTV5 News
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Arrange Birmingham Child Visitation Before the Holidays, Nov. 20, 2012, Birmingham Divorce Lawyer Blog