Tag: UCCJEA and Hague

New Article Hague Abduction Convention Not Your Typical Custody Case

My new article “The Hague Abduction Convention: Not Your Typical Custody Case”, discusses a problem frequently encountered by lawyers representing parents in international child custody disputes. The problem is parents treating their Hague Abduction Convention case as if it were any other custody case. The article is now available on the KidSide website.

Hague Court

Hague Abduction Convention

The Hague Abduction Convention is the primary mechanism to ensure the return of children who have been wrongfully removed or retained from their country of habitual residence. The two main purposes behind the Convention are to protect children from the harm of an international abduction and secure the left behind parent’s rights of access to their child.

However, many parents confuse the purposes of the Convention, mistakenly thinking their best defense rests on proving what a better parent they are. It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that the judge in a Convention case does not even have jurisdiction to hear their child custody dispute.

But before any defenses are even asserted, a parent seeking a child’s return must first prove their case. To prove a case under the Convention, a Petitioner must demonstrate where the habitual residence of the child was before the wrongful removal; that the removal breached custody rights; and at the time of the child’s removal those rights were actually exercised.

There are a limited number of available defenses under the Hague Abduction Convention, and those defenses are different from a typical child custody case. They are different because the purposes of the Convention are different. Given that courts in a Convention case cannot decide the merits of the custody dispute, typical arguments about the best interest of the child don’t have much traction, leaving a limited number of defenses.

KidSide

Child abduction cases under the Hague Convention have a negative impact on children. Add to that, the growing number of high-conflict court cases, like divorce and domestic violence. Because of the growing number of high-conflict cases, there is always a lack of support for kids caught in the legal system.

That’s where KidSide comes in.

KidSide is a 501(c)3 which supports the Family Court Services Unit of the Miami-Dade County, Florida courthouse – the largest judicial circuit in Florida. KidSide can use your support as it supports Family Court Services.

Together, they have been providing crucial services to children and families for more than 20 years. The Unit assists all judges and general magistrates with some of the Court’s most difficult family cases by providing solution-focused and brief therapeutic interventions.

KidSide helps the Family Court Services Unit provide services for families at no cost in the areas of alienation, child/family assistance, co-parenting, crisis assistance, marital reconciliation, parenting coordination, reunification, time-sharing, supervised visitation, and monitored exchanges.

They are staffed with dedicated professionals who are committed to helping families reduce their level of conflict and provide supportive services for the entire family system with particular sensitivity to children.

You can support KidSide by clicking here.

The Kidside article is here.

International Child Custody and the Death Penalty

Whether a U.S. state court will have subject matter jurisdiction over a foreign order in an international child custody case turns on whether a parent is subject to the death penalty in the country originally granting child custody. That painful issue is addressed in a recent appeal from the state of Washington.

Custody Death Penalty

Desert Heat

The Father, Ghassan, appealed a Washington state court’s jurisdiction and award of custody of his child, ZA, to the Mother Bethany. Ghassan and Bethany married in Saudi Arabia in 2013. Bethany is a U.S. citizen, and Ghassan is a citizen of Saudi Arabia. The couple had one child, ZA, in Saudi Arabia.

In 2017, Bethany filed for divorce in Saudi Arabia. In January 2019, a Saudi judge granted the divorce and custody of ZA to Bethany. But then in April, the father sued for custody of ZA on behalf of the paternal grandmother. The parties had a bitter custody battle in which the father accused Bethany of gender mixing, adultery, and insulting Islam.

The father presented damning evidence in the Saudi family court, including photographs of the mother in a bikini in the U.S., and a video of her doing yoga.

Adultery, insulting Islam, and insulting Saudi Arabia are crimes in Saudi Arabia which carry the death penalty. The Saudi judge derided Bethany as a foreigner, who embraced western cultural traditions, and even worse, lamented the child spoke fluent English!

The Saudi court awarded custody to the paternal grandmother who lived with the father. Bethany wisely reconciled with her ex, and convinced him to give her custody rights in exchange for her forfeiting child support. With the father’s permission to travel to Washington for a visit with her family, the mother and daughter left the sand dunes of Arabia for the Evergreen State.

The Battle Near-ish Seattle

Bethany filed a petition for temporary emergency jurisdiction under the UCCJEA and then a permanent parenting plan and child support. The father moved to dismiss for lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction. In the alternative, he asked the court to enforce the Saudi Arabia custody order and waiver of all financial rights.

The family court denied enforcement of the Saudi order and the mother’s waiver of child support. The family court ruled that Washington had jurisdiction in a custody case if “the child custody law of a foreign country violates fundamental principles of human rights.” The father appealed.

Then in 2021, Washington amended its UCCJEA to add a provision that Washington need not recognize another country’s custody order if:

the law of a foreign country holds that apostasy, or a sincerely held religious belief or practice, or homosexuality are punishable by death, and a parent or child may be at demonstrable risk of being subject to such laws.

On appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals applied Washington’s new amendment to the UCCJEA. The Court of Appeals ruled that a Washington court need not enforce the Saudi child custody decree, and may exercise jurisdiction over custody, because Saudi Arabia punishes “apostacy” by death.

The Court of Appeals found that ample evidence supported the family judge’s ruling that the mother faced a death sentence if she returned to Saudi Arabia for her religious and political beliefs. Additionally, the father did not dispute that Bethany could receive the death sentence on her return to Saudi Arabia.

The unpublished opinion is here.

UCCJEA and Gender Dysphoria

The UCCJEA, the scaffold of our interstate child custody system, has two dueling new exceptions related to child gender dysphoria. What will be the impact on interstate child custody lawyers with the latest UCCJEA changes sweeping the country?

UCCJEA Sex

An Increasing Health Care Concern

Children in the U.S. can identify as a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth. The number of children identifying as gender nonconforming and transgender is growing.

Health technology company Komodo Health Inc., attempted to quantify the number of children seeking and receiving care by analyzing millions of health insurance claims. Between 2017 and 2021, the number of new diagnoses of children aged 6-17 with gender dysphoria increased by nearly 178 percent.

Of these cases, a smaller number of children with gender dysphoria are choosing medical interventions to express their identity. Appropriate treatment for children diagnosed with gender dysphoria is the subject of debate internationally, and not surprisingly, among different U.S. states.

Dysphoria in the UCCJEA

I have written and spoken on many issues related to the UCCJEA as a family law attorney. Next month I will be presenting an introduction to the UCCJEA for foreign lawyers at the IV Congreso Internacional de AIJUDEFA in Mexico.

The UCCJEA is a uniform act created to avoid jurisdictional competition and conflict with other courts in child custody matters. The UCCJEA also promotes cooperation with other courts and ensures that a custody decree is rendered in the state which is in a superior position to decide the best interest of the child. The UCCJEA helps to facilitate enforcement of custody decrees; and has the aspirational goal of promoting uniformity of the laws governing custody issues.

One of the ways the UCCJEA helped to avoid jurisdictional competition in child custody matters is by solving the historic problem of different courts issuing different orders covering the same child. Under the UCCJEA one state is a child’s home state, and the home state keeps exclusive jurisdiction to modify the custody arrangement unless, for example, the child is another state and there is an emergency.

uccjea

Dueling Banjos

Periodically, child custody disputes can become emergencies. The UCCJEA provides deliverance from such disputes by authorizing any state – even if it is not the home state of the child – to take temporary emergency jurisdiction to protect a child subject to, or threatened with, mistreatment or abuse.

California recently amended its version of the UCCJEA. California Governor Gavin Newsom – fresh from having visited Florida to poke fun of Gov. DeSantis – signed a bill expanding temporary emergency jurisdiction in California under the UCCJEA.

Effective this year, California courts are now authorized to assume temporary emergency jurisdiction of children in California, who are subjected to, or threatened with, mistreatment or abuse, “or because the child has been unable to obtain gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care.”

Florida recently amended its version of the UCCJEA. Gov. DeSantis – fresh from having visited California to poke fun of Gov. Newsom – signed a bill expanding temporary emergency jurisdiction in Florida under the UCCJEA.

Effective this year, Florida courts are now authorized to assume temporary emergency jurisdiction of children in Florida, who are subjected to, or threatened with, mistreatment or abuse, “or It is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child has been subjected to or is threatened with being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures.”

The California Senate bill is here. The Florida Senate bill is here.

Speaking on International Child Custody in Morocco

Looking forward to speaking about international child custody on a panel with IAFL fellow attorneys: Sarah Hutchinson from England, Elisha D. Roy from the U.S., and Frances Goldsmith from France. We will be discussing international issues arising under the UCCJEA for non-U.S. attorneys.

UCCJEA Moroccoa

Hot Child Custody Issues

From the beaches of Sarasota to the Sahara desert, international child custody today is a hot issue – and admittedly a little dry too. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA) and The Hague Convention on international child abductions are two well-known laws with international importance which can impact your case.

Parents are increasingly moving from country to country for various reasons. Whether children are moved by parents wrongfully or not, that moving makes international child custody complicated.

The UCCJEA is a uniform state law regarding jurisdiction in child custody cases. It specifies which court should decide a custody case, not how the court should decide the case. The  UCCJEA and The Hague Convention on Child Abduction can overlap in certain cases, and the jurisdiction of each law can differ in important ways too.

Florida and almost all U.S. states passed the UCCJEA into law. The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case, enforce an existing child custody determination, and modify one. There are also several foreign laws which can interact with your child custody determination.

More information on the IAFL can be found here.

The Hague Convention Meets the Best Interest Test

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child determined that the Supreme Court of Chile violated the rights of a child after ordering the child returned to his habitual residence of Spain without applying the best interest test.

Hague Convention Best Interest Test

Answering An Andes Abduction

The Mother is a national of Chile. In 2015, she married the Father, a national of Spain. In January 2016, her son J.M., a dual Spanish Chilean citizen, was born in Chile. The Mother and her son left Chile to live with the Father in Spain in November 2016.

When J.M. was a little over a year old and living in Spain with both parents, medical professionals suspected he had a language delay and a form of autism.

Shortly after this spectrum diagnosis, the mother wanted to bring J.M. to Chile where she had arranged his treatment and support plan. The mother wanted to stay in Chile for at least two years.

In July 2017, the father signed an authorization for the mother to travel with J.M. to Chile, where the mother scheduled treatments and support for autism. They decided to stay in the country for at least two years. and had the father’s written approval to travel.

In 2018, one year after authorizing the travel, the father filed a complaint with the Central Authority in Spain, the Ministry of Justice, for wrongful abduction and/or retention of J.M. under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

In January 2019, two lower courts in Chile agreed with the Mother and rejected the father’s return petition. The courts rejected the father’s claim on the grounds that he had given the tacit, even explicit, consent to remain in Chile, which has been the child’s place of habitual residence since birth.

In September 2019, the Supreme Court of Chile overturned the lower courts’ decisions and ordered the child returned to Spain. The Supreme Court did not indicate the conditions under which J.M.’s return should take place, in whose company he should travel, or where and with whom he would ultimately reside and in what circumstances.

The Mother filed a complaint before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child  in 2020.

Hague Child Abduction Convention

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction under the Hague Convention. The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children to the State of their habitual residence to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting or retaining a child.

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

While there are several defenses to a return of a child, the best interest of the child is not one of those defenses. That’s because the Hague Convention prioritizes expeditious determinations as being in the best interests of the child.

UN-Heard Of

The U.N. Committee held that the Chile Supreme Court’s order for the restitution of J.M. to Spain failed to conduct a best interests assessment required in all actions concerning children, and violated the child’s procedural guarantees under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Committee noted that, under the Hague Convention, decisions on the return of children must be taken promptly to ensure that the child’s normal situation is duly restored. However, the Committee considered that the purpose and objective of the Hague Convention does not entail that a return of the child should be automatically ordered.

The Committee held that in international child abduction cases, states must first assess the factors that may constitute an exception to the duty to immediately return the child under articles 12, 13 and 20 of the Hague Convention, and then secondly, these factors must be evaluated in the light of the best interests of the child.

The Committee did not find that the child should necessarily remain in Chile. Instead, it found that the Supreme Court of Chile failed to apply the necessary procedural safeguards to ensure that return would not expose the child to harm or a situation contrary to his best interests:

A court applying the Hague Convention cannot be required to carry out the same level of examination of the best interests of the child as the courts called upon to decide on custody, visitation arrangements or other related issues . . . the judge ruling on the return must assess . . . the extent to which the return would expose him or her to physical or psychological harm or otherwise be clearly against his or her best interests.

The U.N. Committee ruled that Chile should re-assess the return petition, take into account the length of time elapsed, the extent of J.M.’s integration in Chile, and pay reparations for the violations suffered, including compensation.

The Committee also ruled that Chile should try a little harder to prevent future violations by ensuring the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in decisions concerning international return.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child press release is here.

Hague Convention, Domestic Violence, and Rights of Custody

Questions arise about a parent’s right of custody in every international custody case, especially Hague Convention child abduction cases. A Colorado district court recently had to make the tough call whether a parent lost his rights of custody after a domestic violence injunction was put in place against him.

Hague Rights of Custody

Rocky Mountain High

In February 2015, an Australian citizen and a United States citizen married in Las Vegas. They lived in the U.S. for the next two years before traveling to Australia with their three-month-old son – who was born in Australia. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, taking numerous trips, moving frequently between rental properties, staying occasionally with family and friends, and camping in a trailer and tent.

In April 2021, while staying at an Airbnb, the parents had an argument which resulted in the Father being escorted to the police station. By the time he returned to the Airbnb, the Mother had left. The Mother had also obtained a temporary protection order against the father based on allegations of domestic violence.

The domestic violence protection order provided the Father:

must not approach to within 100 metres of where [Mother or the children] live[ ], work[ ] or frequent[ ]—except for the purposes of having contact with children but only as set out in writing between the parties or in compliance with an order under the Family Law Act or when contact with a child is authorised by a representative of the Department of Communities (Child Safety).

The order also provides that Father “must not contact or attempt to contact or arrange for someone else (other than a lawyer) to contact” Respondent or the children . . . and “must not follow or remain or approach to within 100 metres” of Mother or the children. The order was subsequently made permanent for a period of five years.

In May 2021, the Mother and the children came to the United States, and they have lived in Colorado ever since. The Father filed an action seeking return of the children under the Hague Convention and in breach of his custody rights under Australian law.

International Child Custody and the Hague Convention

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction under the Hague Convention. The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children to the State of their habitual residence to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting a child.

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

Rights of custody can arise by operation of law or by reason of a judicial or administrative decision, or by reason of an agreement having legal effect under the law of that State. Rights of custody include rights relating to the care of the person of the child and, in particular, the right to determine the child’s place of residence.

Slippery Slope

The Colorado judge found that the Father failed to show what custody rights, if any, he retained under the Australian Family Law Act. After the domestic violence injunction was made permanent for five years, the Father had the burden to prove what his rights of custody were after the injunction — a prerequisite to establishing that his children’s removal was in breach of his rights of custody.

The Father gave no evidence or testimony on the matter and the Court did not want to assume what remaining rights he had after the order and whether they were substantial enough that  removal of the children breached his rights.

Not every court has held that the entry of a domestic violence injunction meant the loss of rights of custody under the Hague Convention. In a Maryland case, a court found that a domestic violence injunction was aimed at protecting the safety of the Mother, rather than rescinding parental rights of the Father. Accordingly, the domestic violence injunction was not found to be the equivalent of an order rescinding parental rights.

The case is available here.

New Hague Child Abduction Case

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a new opinion, its fifth, in a case involving the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In settling the circuit court conflict, the Supreme Court addressed the undertakings requirement in grave risk cases.

Hague Convention

Last Supper for Undertakings Plus?

Narkis Golan is a U.S. citizen who married Isacco Saada, an Italian citizen in Milan, Italy. She soon moved to Milan, and their son, B.A.S., was born in Milan, They lived in Milan for the first two years of B.A.S.’ life.

But their marriage was violent from the beginning. The two fought on an almost daily basis and, during their arguments, Saada would sometimes push, slap, and grab Golan and pull her hair, yelled and swore at her and frequently insulted her and called her names. Much of Saada’s abuse of Golan occurred in front of his son.

In 2018, Golan flew with B.A.S. to the United States to attend her brother’s wedding. Rather than return as scheduled, she moved into a domestic violence shelter.

Saada filed in Italy a criminal complaint for kidnapping and initiated a civil proceeding seeking sole custody of B.A.S., and also filed a petition under the Hague Convention and ICARA in a New York District Court seeking to return their son to Italy.

The U.S. District Court granted Saada’s petition, determining Italy was the child’s habitual residence and that Golan had wrongfully retained him in violation of Saada’s rights of custody.

But the trial court found returning the child to Italy would expose him to a grave risk of harm because Saada was “violent — physically, psychologically, emotionally, and verbally — to” Golan and the child was present for much of it.

Records also indicated that Italian social services had also concluded that “‘the family situation entails a developmental danger’ for the child and that Saada had demonstrated no “capacity to change his behavior.”

The trial court still ordered the child’s return to Italy based on Second Circuit precedent that it “‘examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child to the home country’” before denying return. To comply with these precedents, the District Court required the parties to propose “‘ameliorative measures’” for the child’s safe return.

The trial court rejected Golan’s argument that Saada could not be trusted to comply with a court order, expressing confidence in the Italian courts’ abilities to enforce the protective order.

The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding the trial did not clearly err in determining that Saada likely would comply with the Italian protective order, given his compliance with other court orders and the threat of enforcement by Italian authorities of its order.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the circuit split and decide whether ameliorative measures must be considered after a grave risk finding.

Florida Child Abduction

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction cases under the Hague Convention. The Convention is supposed to provide remedies for a left-behind parent, like Mr. Saada, to obtain a wrongfully removed or retained child to the country of their habitual residence.

When a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, the Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith.”

There are defenses though. For example, in the Golan case, the court considered Article 13(b), which states that a court is not bound to order the return of the child if the court finds that return would expose the child to a “grave risk” of physical or psychological harm.

The grave risk defense is narrowly drawn. There is an assumption that courts in the left behind country can protect children, which is why courts in some circuits are required to consider ameliorative measures.

New Hague

Il Duomo di Washington D.C.

The Supreme Court noted that the interpretation of a treaty, like the Hague Convention, begins with its text, and nothing in the Convention’s text either forbids or requires consideration of ameliorative measures.

The Court held that judges may consider ameliorative measures with the grave risk determination, but the Convention does not require it. By requiring ameliorative measures, the Second Circuit’s rule re-wrote the treaty by imposing an atextual, categorical requirement that courts consider all possible ameliorative measures in exercising this discretion, regardless of whether such consideration is consistent with the Convention’s objectives.

The Court also held that a trial court “ordinarily should address ameliorative measures raised by the parties or obviously suggested by the circumstances of the case, such as in the example of the localized epidemic.”

First, any consideration of ameliorative measures must prioritize the child’s physical and psychological safety. Second, consideration of ameliorative measures should abide by the Convention’s requirement that courts addressing return petitions do not usurp the role of the court that will adjudicate the underlying custody dispute. Third, any consideration of ameliorative measures must accord with the Convention’s requirement that courts “act expeditiously in proceedings for the return of children.

The Court then remanded to allow the District Court to apply the proper legal standard. Recognizing that remand would delay the case, the opinion hinted the District Court will move “as expeditiously as possible to reach a final decision without further unnecessary delay.”

The opinion is here.

 

Upcoming Speaking Engagement on Interstate and International Jurisdiction

Honored to be asked to speak on interstate and international jurisdiction at the 2022 Marital & Family Law Review Course. The program is live this year at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center from January 21, 2022 to January 22, 2022.

Limited rooms are still available and an additional block of rooms was just made available at the nearby Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista. The prestigious Certification Review course is one of largest and most popular CLE presentations, and is a partnership between the Florida Bar Family Law Section and the AAML Florida Chapter.

Interstate Child Custody

Family law today frequently involves interstate child custody, interstate family support, and The Hague Convention on international child abductions.

Parents are increasingly moving from state to state and country to country for various reasons. Whether children are moved by parents wrongfully or not, that moving makes interstate and international child custody complicated. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and The Hague Convention on Child Abduction, can work together in those cases.

Florida and almost all U.S. states passed the UCCJEA into law. The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

That jurisdiction is based on where the child is, and the significant connections the child has with the forum state, let’s say Florida. The ultimate determining factor in a Florida case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

International Child Abductions

I have written about the Hague Convention before. All family lawyers have to become more familiar with the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also known as The Hague Convention on Child Abduction. This international treaty exists to protect children from international abductions by requiring the prompt return to their habitual residence.

The issue of international child abductions is also a fast-moving area of law. The U.S. Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in a case less than two years after issuing its last Hague Convention opinion.

The Hague Convention applies only in jurisdictions that have signed the convention, and its reach is limited to children ages 16 and under. Essentially, The Hague Convention helps families more quickly revert back to the “status quo” child custody arrangement before an unlawful child abduction.

Interstate Family Support

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act is one of the uniform acts drafted by the Uniform Law Commission. First developed in 1992, the UIFSA resolves interstate jurisdictional disputes about which states can properly establish and modify child support and spousal support orders. The UIFSA also controls the issue of enforcement of family support obligations within the United States.

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which required all U.S. states adopt UIFSA, or face loss of federal funding for child support enforcement. Every U.S. state has adopted some version of UIFSA to resolve interstate disputes about support.

Certification Review Course

It is a privilege to be asked to speak on interstate jurisdiction and international child abductions at the annual Marital & Family Law Review Course again. The annual seminar is the largest and most prestigious advanced family law course in Florida. Last year’s audience included over 1,800 attorneys and judges from around the state.

The program is live this year, will not be broadcasted, and space is limited.

Register for the remaining spaces here.

Enforcing Interstate Child Custody Orders

An important aspect of child custody involves enforcing interstate orders in different states because parents move around the country all the time. If you have a child custody order from say, North Carolina, and you want to enforce or modify it in another state, you must register it the right way.

Interstate Custody

Carolina in My Mind

One interstate case showed the problems that can result if the rules are not followed. A father with a daughter was divorced in Florida in 2016. The parties lived for a while in North Carolina too, and the Father had obtained a North Carolina custody order. When they divorced in Florida, they domesticated their 2014 North Carolina order in Florida. The North Carolina order awarded full legal custody of the daughter to the father, and the mother was given visitation.

Fast forward to 2020, and the mother filed her own ex parte emergency petition in Florida to domesticate a new North Carolina custody order in Florida. This new order was completely different, and awarded the mother emergency custody of the daughter.

However, even though the petition was ex parte and titled an “emergency”, the mother’s petition did not allege any kind of emergency situation. But mistakes happen. That same day, a Florida family judge entered an order granting the mother’s petition and domesticating the January 2020 North Carolina custody order in Florida.

The new Florida order did not list any emergency situation and was never served on the father, so the father didn’t have any notice of it. To his shock, the police showed up one night and the child was taken from him. Afterwards, the father filed a motion to vacate and set aside the Florida ex parte order, but the family judge in Florida denied it.

The Father appealed.

Florida Interstate Child Custody

I’ve written and spoken about interstate child custody issues before. The typical interstate problems occur in cases in which two parents reside in one state, like North Carolina for instance, then one or more of the parents and the children move across state lines to Florida.

Interstate problems can include enforcing foreign custody orders, enforcing or modifying family support orders (like alimony and child support), or enforcing foreign money judgments.

To help with confusion between different laws in different American states, the Uniform Law Commission is tasked with drafting laws on various subjects that attempt to bring uniformity across American state lines.

With respect to family law, different American states had previously adopted different approaches to issues related to interstate custody, interstate alimony, and child support. The results were that different states had conflicting resolutions to the same problems.

To seek harmony in this area, the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA) and Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (the UIFSA), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed into law.

A major problem arises when a foreign or out of state final judgment is not properly registered or domesticated in Florida. When that happens, a serious due process violation can occur, because people are entitled to notice.

Registration is not too complicated. Briefly, registration involves sending to the new state a letter requesting registration along with two copies of the order sought to be registered, a statement that the order has not been modified, the name and address of the person seeking registration, and any parent who has been awarded custody or visitation in the child custody determination sought to be registered.

Hit Me from Behind

On appeal, the Father complained that the family judge in Florida didn’t properly follow the registration requirements in the UCCJEA. The Act required the Mother to provide “the name and address of the person seeking registration and any parent or person acting as a parent who has been awarded custody or visitation in the child custody determination sought to be registered.”

The UCCJEA also requires the Florida family court to actually “[s]erve notice upon the persons named … and provide them with an opportunity to contest the registration in accordance with this section.”

On appeal, it was clear that the Florida court didn’t comply with the registration requirements of the UCCJEA. The Mother had failed to file the North Carolina final judgment or the accompanying documents as required.

In addition, the family court never provided the father with notice of the petition to domesticate the North Carolina order, thereby depriving the father of an opportunity to contest the validity of the North Carolina order – which is his right under the UCCJEA.

Because the Florida court failed to comply with the registration requirements of the UCCJEA and deprived the father with an opportunity to be heard, the resulting Florida order was declared void.

The case is here.

 

New Article “Like Home: The New Definition of Habitual Residence”

My new article “Like Home: The New Definition of Habitual Residence”, discusses habitual residence under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Oct. 25, 1980 and the federal International Child Abduction Remedies Act. The article is now available in the Florida Bar Journal.

New Article

American courts have had different standards for determining a child’s “habitual residence” under the Hague Convention. The controversy? How to establish a child’s habitual residence and what appellate standard of review should be applied after making that determination. The U.S. Supreme Court has now squarely addressed the conflict about habitual residence.

This new article examines the Hague Convention on international child abductions, ICARA, the U.S. Supreme Court decision, and . . . the Wizard of Oz.

The article is available here.