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Child custody case goes to U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court rarely hears family law cases. Almost all family law is state law, and most family law appeals go to state appeals courts. Almost all Colorado family law is Colorado state law, for example, and appeals in Colorado family law cases almost always go to the Colorado state appellate courts. But recently the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a child custody case. The Court apparently agreed to hear the case because it raised an issue on which two federal appeals courts had issued conflicting opinions.

The case involves a contentious international child custody dispute. The father is a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. The mother is from Scotland. The couple has a young daughter who was born in Germany and has dual U.S./British citizenship. When the father was deployed to Afghanistan, the mother and child moved to Scotland. When the deployment ended, the whole family moved to Alabama.

When the couple's marriage began to unravel, the mother went to federal court and requested an order allowing her to take the child to Scotland. The court agreed with her request and ruled that the move was permissible under a Hague Convention addressing international abduction of children. The father asked the court to stay the order, but the court denied the request. As soon as the court's denial of the stay was granted, the mother took off for Scotland with the child, where she commenced custody proceedings in that country.

Meanwhile the father appealed the order of the federal court allowing the mother to take the child to Scotland. But a federal appeals court ruled the issue was moot - because the child was already out of the country with the mother, the court could give no meaningful relief to the father and there was therefore nothing for the court to decide.

A different federal appeals court in another case with similar facts had ruled that an appeal in this situation was not moot. To resolve the inconsistent rulings between two circuits, the Supreme Court granted review. The case is now under advisement, and the Court should issue a ruling sometime in 2013.

Most child custody disputes are not this complicated. In Colorado, if a parent wants to relocate within the United States, the parent must get the court's permission. An experienced family law attorney can guide a parent facing this situation.

Source: Huffington Post, "Rare Family Law Case Heard by U.S. Supreme Court," Margaret Ryznar, Dec. 10, 2012

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