Child custody, including devising or modifying an access schedule, is often challenging. When parents are living, or planning to live, in different countries, the logistics of child custody and parenting time become still more complex. The goal, as always, remains to create an arrangement that will be in the best interest of the child. The practical and legal steps involved in doing so in an international context often require knowledge that is beyond the experience of many family law attorneys.
The attorneys of Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield have nearly three decades of helping clients navigate the challenges of international child custody disputes and negotiations. With offices in the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, we regularly work with clients who come to the area from all over the world or whose spouses or partners are foreign nationals. An attorney experienced in international child custody matters is deeply familiar with the issues that can result.
How difficult it will be to resolve a child custody matter with international components depends very much upon the specific circumstances. In an ideal situation, the parents are amicable and willing to negotiate fairly with each other for their child’s sake. As with a domestic child custody case, parents in international custody matters are free to determine their own access schedule, travel arrangements for the child, and methods of contact between the child and the absent parent. Because the parents understand their family’s needs and circumstances better than any judge, this is often preferable.
Unfortunately, many international child custody disputes involve less-than-ideal circumstances. One parent may be dishonest about their intentions to move, or may try and keep the child abroad longer than agreed. They may take measures to ensure that when they file for custody, the courts of the foreign country will hear the case instead of a state court in the United States.
Many American parents are under the impression that because they or their child are American citizens, U.S. law will govern a custody dispute. This impression is often mistaken, especially if the family resides outside of the United States. Parents may be blindsided by the realization that their child’s custody, and their own access to the child, can sometimes be determined by the courts and laws of another country. It is advisable for American parents who are contemplating a move abroad with a spouse, especially one who is a foreign national, to understand the potential implications of the move should a child custody dispute arise.
More than one country may claim jurisdiction to determine a child custody dispute, and parents in different countries may attempt to have the courts of their own country determine the custody of the child and the parents’ rights of access to the child. There may be significant differences between the competing legal systems, and significant confusion about whether a custody order is valid or whether one parent has violated an order.
These cases are especially complex and require the involvement of an attorney experienced in international child custody matters. A knowledgeable attorney can take swift, decisive action to ensure that the proper country makes the custody decision. Such an attorney can also help assess and protect against the risk of the foreign parent keeping a child away against the wishes of, or the terms of agreement with, the U.S.-based parent. An experienced attorney can also help make plans in case of future disputes, either over where a child will live or what country’s courts will decide. An attorney experienced in international custody issues can even recommend logistical and procedural safeguards against dishonest motives.
The attorneys of Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield have worked with parents at all stages of international child custody matters, from negotiating and establishing custody and access agreements to dealing with international relocation and child abduction issues.
Whenever possible, we take a proactive approach to international custody disputes, advising parents of the possible consequences of an international move, and drafting custody provisions clearly so as to avoid confusion about parental rights or the child’s residence and prevent wrongful removal of a child from their home. We recognize that not every parent has the opportunity to address the issue of child custody before a dispute arises. Our attorneys are also prepared to work with clients in crisis situations, offering guidance founded on decades of practice experience, including work involving many different countries and cultures.
Whether you are residing abroad or in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, we invite you to contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to schedule a consultation to address your concerns about international child custody matters.