Child custody case to be decided by Supreme Court

Oral arguments will take place today, December 5, 2012, in the case of Chapin v. Chapin, involving an international custody dispute. The husband and wife met in Germany while the husband was stationed there with the U.S. Army. Their marriage later failed and they were divorced.

The wife was awarded custody of the child by an Alabama court and she returned to Scotland, which the court had determined was the child's "habitual residence." The Eleventh Circuit refused to hear the husband's appeal of the district court's ruling, as the child was out of the jurisdiction in Scotland, and the court declared the case moot.

Other federal circuit courts of appeal that have considered the issue differ from the Eleventh Circuit, and the Supreme Court accepted the case to resolve the split in the circuits.

The issue involves the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague Convention is used to decide child custody in international cases and prevent parents from abducting a child and fleeing to their home county.

The Supreme Court has to decide if the courts of appeal continue to have the authority to hear a case after a child has left the jurisdiction. While these cases are complex, it seems as if the Eleventh circuit's rule prematurely cuts off any remedy for the losing party in the district court.

If the party awarded custody immediately leaves the jurisdiction, no matter how valid the other parents appeal might be, they would have automatically lost that appeal. A decision from the Supreme Court is due by June 2013.

Source: Georgia Public Broadcasting News, "Custody Case Goes To Supreme Court," Orlando Montoya, December 3, 2012

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