We live in an interconnected world where now more than ever many of our Virginia divorce clients are married to or have a child with a person who holds a passport issued by another country.
If you are in this situation and your marital or intimate relationship appears to be breaking down, you may be fearful that your spouse or significant other could flee the United States with your child. How worried should you be and what can you do about it?
Here are four suggestions if you have such concerns:
- Make sure that your divorce attorney is experienced in handling international custody cases in general, and knowledgeable specifically about the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (commonly known as “The Hague Convention.”) The Hague Convention provides remedies if a child is removed from his or her country of “habitual residence” but it is a very complicated international treaty, both in substance and procedure and obtaining solid legal expertise to advise and assist you is key.
- Try to make an informed decision about the severity of risks in your particular situation. Factors to consider include:
- Is the other country a signatory to the Hague Convention so that its remedies could be invoked in your case?
- What ties does your spouse/significant other have to the US and to the other country? Are they employed in the US? How long have they lived in the US? Do they have family members in the US? Do they own real estate and have other assets in the US?
- How old is the child? Your situation if you have a 12-year old is quite different from the situation if you have a two-year old or an infant.
- Who has possession of the child’s passport?
- Think about common sense steps that you can take yourself. If you have access to the child’s passport, put it in a secure place. Apply to put your child on the State Department’s Passport Issuance Alert Program so that you will be alerted if someone applies for an original or duplicate US passport in your child’s name. Maintain current color photos and a physical description of your child. Take your child to your local police station to be fingerprinted. If there are court orders, provide copies to your child’s school and day care.
- Work with your divorce attorney to ensure that any settlement agreement or court order thoroughly addresses your concerns about the risk of international child abduction.
Getting the right help and planning in a proactive way can make a big difference in your worries and fears about the complex issues which arise when divorcing parents have ties to two different countries.