The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the "Hague Convention") is a multilateral treaty. The signatory countries cooperate in returning children to their home country for custody proceedings. The United States assisted in drafting the Hague Convention and became a signatory in 1981. Hague Convention cases sometimes involve disputes over visitation rights, but more often these cases focus on returning a child whose parent has wrongfully removed the child from the home country or wrongfully retained the child in a foreign country. In return cases, the left-behind parent with custodial rights seeks the child's return to the country of habitual residence. Once the child is returned, the court in the child's home country can evaluate the underlying merits of the custody dispute.
In child abduction cases litigated under the Hague Convention, courts can determine only where a child custody action should be tried. Article 16 of the Hague Convention specifically bars a court in a country to which a child has been abducted from considering the merits of custody once it receives notice of the wrongful removal or retention of the child. Accordingly, parties should be prepared to argue against any attempts by the court or the opposing party to convert the action into a custody proceeding. The court may need a reminder that a Hague Convention case is purely jurisdictional. The best interests of the child standard is not applied.
For more information about litigating a Hague Convention case, feel free to contact the attorneys at Fitch Law Partners LLP, one of whom is a member of the U.S. State Department's Hague Convention Attorney Network.