International Custody

Tennis ace Victoria Azarenka will miss the US Open this year because of an international custody battle with ex-boyfriend Billy McKeague over their 8-month-old son. The case was filed in California, but there may be a custody order from Belarus, where Victoria, Leo and Billy are all residents.

The case became an international custody case, and an international tennis affair, after the father, McKeague, filed for paternity and custody in Los Angeles, where Azarenka has a residence. A California judge informed the Belarusian born tennis star that she is unable to leave the state of California with her infant son as the custody dispute rages on.

With the case set to wrap in October, Azarenka will have to skip the U.S. Open, which kicks off Aug. 28 in New York, as she refuses to leave her child in the hands of her former boyfriend because she doesn’t believe he’s capable of caring for the child.

Hague Convention and Custody

Why would a California judge have a problem with allowing the mother to travel with her son to New York, – with the possibility of slipping off to Belarus – during a custody battle with a man she believes is not capable of caring for the child?

The answer is simple: the judge is concerned about international child abduction, and that raises the issue of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. I’ve written about the subject of international child custody cases before.

The Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law to provide for the prompt return of a child internationally abducted by a parent from one-member country to another.

There are three essential elements to every Hague Convention case:

  • The child must be under the age of 16 years of age;
  • The wrongful removal must be a violation of the left behind parent’s “rights of custody;”
  • The left behind parent’s rights of custody “were actually being exercised or would have been exercised but for the removal.”

So, if a child under the age of sixteen has been wrongfully removed or retained within the meaning of the Hague Convention, the child must be promptly returned to the child’s country of habitual residence, unless certain exceptions apply.

The catch, of course, is that a child must be taken from a signatory country to another signatory country, and that is where understanding the Hague Convention comes in.

According to the Convention, Belarus’s accession to the Convention is effective only in the relationship between Belarus and those contracting states that have declared their acceptance of the accession. The United States has not recognized Belarusian participation in the Convention.

Game, set, match?

According to the New York Post, Azarenka’s attorney, told the California judge her client is more than willing to buy a plane ticket for McKeague and put him up in a hotel for the 2-week tournament.

“But for some reason the judge won’t defer to the Belarus court.”

When cases involve international custody, and there is a risk that a child could possibly be abducted to a foreign country without treaty agreements with the United States, judges are extremely careful about allowing travel – even to the U.S. Open.

The New York Post article is here.