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Alabama man’s international custody dispute goes to Supreme Court

Disputes over who should have primary custody of a child can get complicated enough when one parent relocates to another state. When one parent moves to a different country, the legal issues in a child custody dispute can become extremely difficult. An Alabama father’s fight to gain custody of his daughter is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that will test the reach of international law.

The father, who lives in Madison, is a sergeant in the U.S. Army. The mother had lived with the couple’s daughter in Scotland since 2007, but came to visit the man in Alabama in 2010 in a failed attempt to save their marriage. Visa issues later forced the mother to return to Scotland while the daughter stayed with her father.

An Alabama judge awarded custody of the child to the American man. The mother fought the ruling, and last October, a U.S. District Judge in Huntsville ruled that the child should return to her mother, under an international agreement known as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit dismissed the father’s appeal of the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court is now expected to issue its ruling sometime before June of next year.

This case may be highly unusual in some ways, but the basic outlines of the conflict are familiar to many Alabama parents. When one parent relocates to another state or another country, the move can greatly interfere with custody and visitation rights. Each state has its own laws regarding child custody relocation, and may have different requirements.

It’s always difficult to use the justice system to settle a child custody dispute, whether through a local family court or the U.S. Supreme Court. After a hearing, a court can decide what custody arrangement is best, based on its determination of the best interests of the child. But it may be better for everyone involved if parents can come up with a workable custody arrangement beforehand. Mediation can help parents reach an agreement that suits each party’s needs.

Source: Reuters, “Supreme Court to hear int’l child custody dispute,” Jonathan Stempel and Terry Baynes, Aug. 13, 2012