International custody cases raise issues of both jurisdiction as well as subsequent enforcement. For cases beginning in the U.S., the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) likely applies. The UCCJEA gives jurisdiction for a custody matter to the home county of the child. This would be the county where the child has resided for six (6) months prior to the commencement of the custody action. If jurisdiction is not clear based on an analysis of the home state, the courts should then look to see where there are significant connections and substantial evidence relevant to the custody action. Significant connections is more than just mere presence in any state. Once a court obtains jurisdiction under one of guidelines above, that court continues to have exclusive jurisdiction until it is established that another court has become more suitable for jurisdiction. Accordingly, any modifications of custody must go through the court that made the initial or prior determination.
Enforcement of a custody order is addressed by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Signatories to the Hague Convention are required to immediately return children if taken or retained in violation of a custody order. All countries who are parties to the Hague Convention must establish a “Central Authority,” an office responsible for dealing with Hague Convention violations. For children removed from the United States, a petition for return should be filed through the U.S. State Department, Office of Children’s Issues. From there, the petition is transmitted to the Central Authority for the other country involved and ultimately adjudicated there. It is important to begin the process as soon as a violation occurs for the best likelihood of having the child returned.