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Hague Convention: International Child Abduction Litigation

It should be no surprise that as we become a more globalized community, people who originate from different parts of the world marry and start families. Most people would agree that it is important for children to have meaningful contact with their extended family; in particular, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  However, when that extended family lives in Lebanon, not the Lebanon a few minutes north of Dallas, but the Lebanon over 7,000 miles away, even the most reasonable requests to take the children to see their grandparents creates a certain degree of trepidation.

International child abduction is a new reality in the family law landscape that is occurring with more frequency.  Approximately 70 countries are signatory members of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  The Hague Convention creates the legal procedural mechanism to retrieve children that have been unlawfully taken from their Home State, but even when a country is a signatory member and in full compliance, the process of retrieving a child is time consuming and often financially prohibitive.  Fortunately, the Texas Family Code provides some legislative tools to assist in protecting children from abduction.

If credible evidence is presented that a child is at risk of international abduction by his or her parent, the Court may take any of the following actions:

  1. Naming the parent who does not pose the risk as the sole managing conservator of the child;
  2. Require visits to be supervised;
  3. Enjoin the parent or any person acting on the parent’s behalf from removing the child from school or approaching the child at any location other than a site designated for supervised visits;
  4. Order passport and travel controls, including but not limited to requiring the parent to turn over any passport and prohibiting them from applying for a passport;
  5. Require the parent to inform the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues of the Court’s orders;
  6. Order the parent to execute a bond;
  7. Authorize the appropriate law enforcement agencies to take measures to prevent the abduction of the child; or
  8. Include provisions in the order identifying the U.S. as the country of the child’s habitual residence; identifying the basis of the Court’s exercise of jurisdiction; and stating that party’s violation of the order may subject the party to a civil and/or criminal penalty.

In making a determination of credible evidence of a risk of international abduction, the Court shall consider the following:

  1. Whether the parent has taken, enticed away, kept, withheld, or concealed a child in violation of the other parent’s right of possession;
  2. Whether the parent has previously threatened to take, entice away, keep, withhold, or conceal a child in violation of the other parent’s right of possession;
  3. Whether the parent lacks financial reason to stay in the U.S.;
  4. Whether the parent recently engaged in planning activities that could facilitate the removal of the child; including, quitting a job, selling primary residence, terminating lease, closing bank accounts, liquidating other assets, hiding or destroying documents, applying for a passport or visa, or applying to obtain the child’s records;
  5. Whether the parent has a history of domestic violence;
  6. Whether the parent has a hisotry of violating court orders;
  7. Whether the parent has strong familial, emotional, or cultural ties to another country, in particular a country that is not a signatory to or compliant with the Hague Convention;
  8. Whether parent lacks strong ties to the U.S.;
  9. Whether the parent is undergoing a change in status with the U.S. immigration; and/or
  10. The classification and social history of the foreign country that the parent has ties to.

International child abduction is a complicated area of the law, which invokes the jurisdiction of multiple countries.  If you believe that your child is a victim of international child abduction, it is critical that you contact an attorney immediately; additionally, if you believe that your child may be at risk of being abducted, it is similarly critical that you contact an attorney so that the strongest safety net can be developed for the protection of your child.  The U.S. Department of State has additional information regarding the Hague Convention and issues related to International Child Abduction.