Supreme Court settles international custody question

Though the practical implications of the holding remain to be seen, the United States Supreme Court recently affirmed the ability of American courts to assert authority in international child custody disputes. In the matter of complex custody heard by the Court, there is no guarantee that American court assertion will ultimately affect the outcome of the situation. However, the Court has confirmed that Americans in like-situations have permission to keep filing appeals and fighting for the custody of their children on an international stage.

The Court considered the specific custody dispute of an army sergeant. He married a foreign citizen when he was stationed overseas. The family returned to the United States and had a little girl. However, when the couple decided to divorce an American court granted the child's mother permission to take her to Scotland.

The sergeant appealed that decision, but by the time the appeal moved through the system, it was deemed to be "moot" because the little girl had been overseas for more than a year and American courts have little say in whether a Scottish court would or would not choose to send the child back to the U.S.

The Supreme Court held that the appeal should be tried on its merits, regardless of the outcome. Even if American courts cannot ultimately dictate action to Scottish courts, the sergeant has standing to have his appeal be heard and ruled upon. In the end, the Court chose to honor the "live dispute between the parties over where their child will be raised," and the "possibility of effectual relief for the prevailing parent."

Though the Court's holding does not guarantee a positive outcome for parents in like-situations, it allows for justice to be granted in live disputes and for hope to continue throughout the appeals process. Few things in life are as challenging as fighting for the custody of a child who has been taken across borders. The Supreme Court has honored that challenge and the possibility of a fair outcome, even if it cannot dictate the actions of foreign courts.

Source: Fox News, "Supreme Court says Army dad must be heard in custody battle for daughter," Perry Chiaramonte, Feb. 19, 2013

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