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US father embroiled in international child custody dispute

Child custody disputes in California may often be resolved through consideration of the best interests of the child standard used in family law. Generally, family law issues are a matter for state courts. However, a recent dispute in the South is being considered in a federal courtroom. And the issue does not directly involve whether the father or the mother should have custody of the child—the issue is what law and what country should decide the child custody dispute.

Many divorce proceedings and child custody disputes in California may not involve conflict of law issues. However, many parents relocate during the life of a minor child, and custody disputes can cross state lines.

Generally, the laws in the United States provide courts with continuing jurisdiction over child custody issues, but disputes can arise. Some commentators say that international child custody disputes, while rare, are becoming somewhat more common in our global economy.

Many international custody disputes have arisen between the United States and Japan. International issues are generally governed under the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction, which Japan refused to join, until Japan’s parliament approved unanimously Wednesday to join the international treaty.

Meanwhile, an American father in Tennessee is battling in federal court for custody of his two sons. The boys were born in the United States and are U.S. citizens, but they have spent the majority of their lives in Hungary. The mother of the boys is a Romanian-born U.S. citizen. She says that the boys came to the U.S. last year to visit their paternal grandparents. The boys’ father and mother moved from Hungary to Romania while the boys were in the United States.

The mother says that the boys were to be returned to Europe after the visit with their grandparents. However, the boys’ father says that she threatened to divorce him. The boys started school in Tennessee, and the father filed for divorce in the United States.

A federal court has been asked to decide whether the child custody dispute should be resolved in the U.S., Hungary, or even potentially in Romania. The U.S. court may also consider whether the mother consented to the boys’ enrollment in school in the U.S., which could affect the outcome of the first question.

Source: The Tennessean, “International child custody trial begins in Nashville,” Shiela Burke-Associated Press, May 22, 2013; The Washington Post, “Japan approves joining international child custody treaty amid concerns about abductions,” Associated Press, May 22, 2013