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Parents fight international custody battle

A child custody dispute between a Tennessee father and a Hungarian mother with U.S. citizenship spotlights the intricacies of international child custody battles. A May trial decides whether the custody case will be heard by a U.S., Hungary or Romania judge. The parents were married in Romania, but the children were born in the United States. The children lived in Hungary from 2004 to 2012. In the summer of 2012, they visited their father, who ended up filing for divorce and keeping the children with him in Tennessee. He sought primary custody of his children in the divorce.

The mother, who went through the U.S. State Department to get her children back in Europe, has argued that her kids were wrongfully retained in Tennessee. She argues that the father is in violation of the Hague Convention treaty. The father has argued that the children speak English and have become acclimated to living in Tennessee. The mother claims to have proof that the children miss their European home. The decision of where the custody battle will take place depends greatly on whether the mother gave consent for the father to enroll the children in school in Tennessee.

International child custody cases are often complicated and emotional and decided upon different factors. Parents don't gain any distinct advantage in courts by moving their children to other countries before starting custody battles. The Hague Convention treaty was designed to keep parents from taking children away from their "habitual residence" countries. Under the treaty, children that have been relocated by parents are considered to be wrongly removed from their home environments. The treaty takes into consideration whether children have become accustomed to their new environment and whether they are better off with the parents who took them to other countries.

International cases involving children who have lived in European countries generally go before federal judges. Lawyers often have to educate judges about the specifics of the Hague Convention treaty or focus on certain areas of the treaty that apply most to their cases. A parent living in the United States would need to have a strong case for how his children have acclimated to the lifestyle of the United States and for why he is a better parent to have primary custody. Sometimes parents have to go through multiple court battles before getting a decision on child custody.

Source: American Bar Association, "International child custody trial begins in Nashville", Sheila Burke, May 22, 2013

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