Soldier, Scot's Int'l Custody Dispute Heads to U.S. Supreme Court - The Chicago Family Law Blog

The Chicago Family Law Blog

Soldier, Scot's Int'l Custody Dispute Heads to U.S. Supreme Court

What country’s child custody law applies when parents reside in different countries? This fundamental question still has no clear answer. However, according to Reuters, the Supreme Court will finally get around to answering the question.

Jeffrey Chafin is a U.S. Army sergeant residing in Alabama. Lynne Chafin is a Scottish woman residing in Glasgow. Since 2007, Lynne and the couple’s daughter have lived in Scotland, apart from Jeffrey, due to the Jeffrey’s job with the military.

In 2010, Lynne moved, with the daughter, to Alabama in an effort to save the marriage. Her effort unfortunately failed, and she decided to return to Scotland. That was the beginning of the incredibly complicated custody dispute. Here’s a synopsis of what happened:

  • An Alabama state judge initially awarded custody to the father.
  • A federal court overturned that decision in October 2011 and awarded custody to the mother, citing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and labeling Scotland as the “habitual residence.”
  • Lynne returned to Glasgow with the child.
  • In February, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the issue was “moot” because the child was already in Scotland.

Can you imagine the parents’ frustration at that point? The father was awarded custody, but it was taken away. His child was taken to Scotland, and the court just said, “Meh. The kid’s already in Scotland.”

Meanwhile, one can only imagine the stress the mother’s feeling. She came to the U.S. to try to save a failing marriage; as a result, she’s entangled in this international custody dispute. She doesn’t know whether her child will continue to live with her, or be returned to a foreign country.

It’s an ugly situation for all involved. Reuters notes that other federal appeals courts have come to different conclusions on the same issue. When this happens, it becomes much more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will step in and settle the matter. After all, our legal system likes having the same rules apply to these sorts of issues, whether the child is in Alabama, Chicago, or Eureka, California.

This case is also important because it’s quite capable of being repeated. Our soldiers are often stationed in foreign countries. Romances develop, pregnancies happen, and children are born. Other times, a child is sent to visit family in another country and never returned. Having a settled rule on this conflict of law issue will clarify issues in these international custody disputes.

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