Your Foreign Custody Order is not Enforceable Here

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Tuesday, November 3, 2015.

A Pennsylvania court refused to follow or recognize a foreign country’s custody order, instead allowing one of its courts to change custody. Are international child custody orders valid here?

The case of H.L.K. v. F.A.A. involved dual citizenships: the Mother was a U.S. citizen and the Father Saudi Arabian. They married in Pennsylvania in 1994, and moved to Saudi Arabia.

Three children were born, and all were dual citizens. In 2008, the Mother moved back to Pennsylvania, and filed for divorce. Before a court could enter the divorce, she reconciled, moved back to Saudi Arabia, and in 2012 divorced there.

Immediately following the divorce, the Mother was forced to leave Saudi Arabia without the children because she was no longer sponsored by the Father, and because of Saudi guardianship laws.

In June 2013, the Father let the children visit Pennsylvania for summer timesharing. The Mother kept them, and sued for custody in Pennsylvania. At the same time, the Father sued in a Saudi court, which awarded him sole custody of the children.

The Father then tried to have his Saudi custody order recognized in Pennsylvania to enforce it. The Mother objected. The Pennsylvania court sided with the Mother, and refused to enforce it.

Why? The Saudi Order states, in part:

First, the non-Muslim shall not have right of custody of a Muslim.

Second, custody of each girl who attains the seventh year of age is with her father.

Third, if either parent desires to live in a remote country, priority for child custody shall go to the father whether the traveler is the father or mother.

Fourth, the female after attaining seventh year of age shall have no choice and she should stay with her father till marriage . . . the father is often more careful in protecting his daughter.

The Pennsylvania court found the Saudi judgment (especially the highlighted portions) violated state public policy, and refused to register it under principles of comity.

Foreign laws are increasingly being challenged in the U.S. For example, Islamic and American laws sometimes clash as you could probably guess fromt he bolded language in the Saudi order.

I’ve written about the intersection of Family law and Islamic law before. In 2014, Florida passed a law which prohibits our state courts from basing a decision on a foreign law that does not grant the parties the same rights guaranteed by the Florida or U.S. Constitutions.

The opinion is available here. Thanks to the Volokh Conspiracy for its analysis.