Hague Convention: 6 Defenses to a Petition for the Return of a Child.

The Hague Convention is a treaty that many countries, including the United States, have joined. Its purpose is to protect children from the harmful effects of international abduction by a parent. Under the Convention, a court may deny return of an abducted child if one of the following six defenses apply.

When a parent is subject to an application either in the State Court or the Federal Court for return of a child who is alleged to be illegally taken from a foreign country and brought to the United States, or wrongfully retained in the United States beyond the agreed upon time frame of temporary absence, there are certain defenses that can be raised by the non-petitioning parent in order to prevent the return.

History of Hague

The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“The Hague Convention”) was enacted into law through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (“ICARA”) which provides that a parent whose child has been wrongfully removed from or retained in the United States may petition for the child’s return to his or her country of habitual residence.

This multilateral treaty was developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) and concluded on October 25, 1980, entering into force on December 1, 1983.

These participating countries are also included in a large treaty that governs the way different legal systems work together. There were two specific goals in mind at the time of The Hague Services Convention’s formation:

  • Create a means to ensure that judicial and extrajudicial documents to be served abroad can be brought to the notice of the addressee in sufficient time.
  • Improve the organization of mutual judicial assistance.

According to the Convention, the removal or retention of a child is “wrongful” whenever it breaches the rights of custody attributed to a person or any other body and if at the time of remove or retention those rights were actually exercised. Even if a parent already has legal custody of a child, the Convention is needed because U.S. court orders may not be recognized in other countries and sovereign nations cannot interfere with each other’s legal systems, judiciaries, or law enforcement.

Under the Hague Abduction Convention and ICARA, when a child has been wrongfully removed from the child’s home nation-state or “habitual residence,” the court must order the child to be returned to the habitual residence, unless the party removing the child can establish at least one of six narrow affirmative defenses.

Six Defenses

There are a few defenses to a claim of wrongful removal or retention under the Hague Convention, which include:

Defense 1: That the petitioner (parent seeking the return of the child) was not “actually exercising custody rights at the time of the removal or retention” under Article 13.

Defense 2: That the petitioner “had consented to or acquiesced in the removal or retention” under Article 13.

Defense 3: That more than one year passed from the time of the wrongful removal or retention until the date the petitioner commenced a judicial or administrative proceeding for the return of the child, under Article 12.

Defense 4: That the child is old enough and has a sufficient degree of maturity to knowingly object to being returned to the petitioner and that it is appropriate to heed that objection, under Article 13.

Defense 5: That “there is grave risk that the child’s return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation,” under Article 13(b), and

Defense 6: That return of the child would subject the child to violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, under Article 20.

If your child has been wrongfully removed to a country overseas, you should immediately contact your local family law attorney that is experienced in international custody disputes for help.

Relocating Your Child

Whether due to job requirements (like working in the military) or simply moving back to be with family, many separated or divorced US parents relocate abroad every year. You must realize it will often be a criminal offense for you to take the child away without the other parent’s permission. Illinois Courts require that a parent looking to permanently relocate a child from the State of Illinois have a written agreement and/or Court Order allowing the move.  There are a variety of factors the Court will consider in adjudicating whether the move is within your child’s best interest.

As previously mentioned, under the Hague Convention you will “wrongfully remove” a child if you take the child away from his or her habitual residence. Therefore, the other parent will normally be able to block your removal of the child from that country and if you take the child to the United States a U.S. court will normally compel you to return the child forthwith.

It is imperative you make any International Custody Agreements & Parenting Time schedules before you relocate your child/children.

In deciding whether to authorize a child’s relocation to a foreign country, U.S. courts will try to determine the best interests of the child, considering the same factors they normally consider in domestic move-away cases (these factors depend on the laws of state that has jurisdiction to hear the case). In addition, with international move-away cases, most state courts will also consider several additional factors, including (as per DivorceNet):

  • The cultural conditions and practices in the foreign country
  • Any potential visitation difficulties for the parent that gets left behind
  • Jurisdictional issues that may make the enforceability of the domestic custody and visitation orders problematic (meaning the extent to which the foreign country would enforce the left-behind parent’s visitation or rights to access the child), and
  • Whether or not the proposed foreign country is a signatory to the Hague convention (however, the fact that the proposed country is not a signatory does not automatically mean the request to relocate will be denied).

If you want to move your child out of the United States or your child’s other parent does, you should definitely contact an experienced custody attorney for advice on how to protect your parental rights.

Getting the Help You Need

Left behind parents face enormous obstacles in seeking judicial intervention in the United States to compel return of their children. Proving claims in international child abduction cases under the Hague Abduction Convention requires analysis and careful development of all evidence and testimony that may support or defeat defenses to claims of wrongful abduction or retention.

The attorneys at Masters Law Group have extensive experience in cases involving international child custody disputes in both courts located in the State of Illinois and the United States federal court system. We have extensive knowledge and experience with The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“The Hague Convention”) that was enacted into law through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (“ICARA”) which provides that a parent whose child has been wrongfully removed from or retained in the United States may petition for the child’s return to his or her country of habitual residence.

Contact us here today to schedule a consultation.