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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Overseas Child-Custody Battles in Military Receive DOD Attention

One of our recent blogs featured a story that demonstrates how a child custody matter can take on extra layers of complexity when it has an international twist. In the case we described, a Georgia resident is seeking custody of his son, who was taken by his ex-spouse to Italy, a move the man describes as “the international equivalent of kidnapping.” Courts in both countries are weighing in on the matter, which remains unresolved.

A congressman from New Jersey, Rep. Chris Smith, points to similarly complex international child-custody disputes that he says are becoming increasingly common in the military, and he has ordered the Department of Defense (“DOD”) to pay greater attention to the matter and more support for service members embroiled in complicated custody battles in overseas courts. The DOD has responded by providing military family support and legal agencies with more information on family law and court processes in the countries most often involved in international custody disputes with U.S. military members.

From 2007 to 2009, the number of troops petitioning the State Department for help in seeing their kids in areas outside the United States rose from eight to 34 in 14 countries. Most of the disputes center on children presently in Japan and Germany, countries where large U.S. military populations reside. Advocates for service members seeking access to their kids say that the troops face significant hurdles, including language barriers, radically differing divorce and custody customs, problems finding diligent legal representation, and treaties that often converge and muddy roiled waters even further. On top of that, the family courts in foreign jurisdictions often simply favor the native parent.

In any child custody matter, it is important to secure the assistance of a family law attorney with experience in the area and strong knowledge of the relevant laws and legal processes.

Related Resource: “Report: DOD to give more help to troops in international child-custody disputes” September 28, 2010