U.S. Supreme Court Rules in International Alabama Custody Case

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that an Army sergeant who had been stationed at Redstone Arsenal could sue for custody of his six-year-old daughter who now lives in Scotland. It is very rare that a custody case is heard by the Supreme Court — the court took this case because of its international implications and because lower U.S. federal courts were split on the legal issues involved.

A little girl stuck in an international custody battle

Jeff and Lynne Chafin met in Germany when Jeff was serving as a sergeant in the U.S. army. Lynne is a citizen of the U.K. They married and had a daughter, Eris, who has dual citizenship. When Jeff was deployed to Afghanistan, Lynne and Eris went to live in Scotland. After Jeff was transferred to Huntsville, Lynne and Eris moved there to be with him, but the couple soon decided to divorce. Lynne was arrested on a charge of public drunkenness and, although the charges were dropped, authorities learned that Lynn was in the United States on a 90-day tourist visa and she was deported. Eris stayed in Alabama with her father.

A few months later, Lynne filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, saying that Scotland was Eris’s place of “habitual residence” and that the United States courts should order that she be returned to Scotland. The U.S. District Court agreed, and Lynne was permitted to take Eris back to Scotland. Jeff appealed the order, but the court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction because Eris was already out of the country. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

A bittersweet victory in the U.S. Supreme Court

Last February, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed those decisions in a unanimous 9-0 ruling, allowing the U.S. courts to make the determination as to which parent should have custody of Eris. It is not clear whether Lynn has complied with the American order, or whether the Scottish government will be here to return Eris to the United States.

If you are fighting for custody of your child, you should not give up just because the child’s other parent has taken them out of the country. Most (but not all) countries around the world have signed the Hague Convention, which means that they are required to return the child to the U.S. if that was the child’s habitual residence. The attorneys at Lakeman, Peagler, Hollett & Alsobrook, LLC can help you fight for custody of your child, wherever he or she happens to be.