If your child has been removed from your home country (habitual residence) or retained in another country without your permission, you must act promptly to protect your rights. One common scenario is one parent removing the child from the child’s home country without the other parent’s permission in order to start a new life in another country. Another common scenario is that one parent, with the consent of the other parent, travels out of the home country with the child and then refuses to return as planned. In either scenario, time is of the essence.
To enforce your rights, you will need to initiate proceedings under what is commonly known as the Hague Convention, an international treaty designed to address the issue of child abduction across international borders. The Hague Convention provides a speedy legal process in which the court limits its scope of work to a determination of whether the child should be returned to the home country (habitual residence) or can remain in the U.S.
Once that determination is made, any of the usual custody, visitation, and other family law matters will be addressed in the courts of the child’s home country rather than the U.S. The Hague Convention assures that only a court of proper jurisdiction may address custodial matters affecting a child and can prevent a taking parent’s efforts to “forum shop” for a more favorable court to obtain custodial orders in conflict with those of the home country.
Given the limited scope of a Hague Convention proceeding, the court in which it is initiated can move it along quickly to a final trial. In line with the Hague Convention mandates, a Hague Convention case can go from petition filing to final hearing/trial before the Court in as little as six weeks.
Protecting Your Family Under The Hague Convention
There are only a few defenses to a Hague Convention petition for a child’s return. Those defenses are:
- The left-behind parent was not actually exercising his or her parental rights at the time of removal
- The left-behind parent consented to or acquiesced in the removal or retention of the child
- More than one year has passed since removal or retention of the child and the child has become well-settled in his or her environment
- The child is of sufficient maturity to knowingly object to return
- There is a grave risk of harm to the child should the court mandate immediate return to the habitual residence
- Return of the child would subject the child to violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms
These defenses involve a complex and constantly evolving area of the law, often requiring research into the laws of foreign jurisdictions, as well as U.S. federal and state laws.
Turn To A Firm Experienced In Navigating Hague Convention Matters
The Hague Convention legal team at Urban Thier & Federer, P.A. is not only experienced, but also a true leader in this area of the law. Senior attorney Patricia M. Lee offers more than 30 years of experience in this area of the law. She has been the lead attorney on Hague Convention cases involving children removed from and/or to Germany, Belgium, Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, the United States of America, and other countries.
One example of this experience and leadership is the case of R.G. versus H.G. filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida in which attorneys Patricia M. Lee and John L. Urban represented the mother of two children who had relocated to Florida from Germany and wished to remain there permanently. The father, who lived in Germany, initiated a Hague Convention proceeding for the return of the children to Germany.
The federal United States District Court trial court judge held an extensive evidentiary trial proceeding and ruled that the U.S. was now the children’s habitual residence. The father then appealed that decision, and the three appellate court judges assigned to the appeal conducted an expedited process, ultimately issuing a 17-page ruling upholding the trial court’s decision and clarifying aspects of the application of the Hague Convention.
Another example of this experience and leadership is the case of T.S. versus Y.M. in the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Florida in which attorney Lee represented the father of two children who had at times lived with their mother in Mexico and also occasionally lived with their father in the U.S. After extensive trial court proceedings, the court ruled the children should stay with the father as the U.S. was currently their habitual residence. The mother then appealed the decision, and the court conducted an expedited appeals process. The three-judge appellate panel issued a unanimous ruling upholding the trial court’s decision.
There Is No Time To Waste – Speak With An Experienced Attorney Today
Whether your child has been removed or withheld from your home country, you have been served with a petition under the Hague Convention or if you otherwise find yourself involved in a case related to the Hague Convention, the experienced attorneys at Urban Thier & Federer, P.A. can provide assistance. To maximize your chances of success, it is imperative that you take immediate action.