Problems With Enforcement of the Hague Convention

Today's global culture has led to a greater number of marriages between people from different countries than in decades past. As a result, international child abduction has increasingly become a problem. To put the issue in perspective, consider that 2,800 children have been abducted from the United States — more children than attend the largest grade school in the country.

Eighty countries, including the United States, have adopted the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions. The Hague Convention was developed "to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence." The intentions are good and the desire is there, but enforcement is lacking.

U.S. Government Faces Difficulties

The United States government is powerless in its attempts to coerce foreign countries to obey the Hague Convention. Countries not part of the Convention create even more difficulty in returning abducted children. For example, Japan, which is currently contemplating joining the Convention, is thought to be harboring over 100 children abducted from the United States.

Child abduction has also crossed borders in the opposite direction; a child was recently brought into the United States contrary to a ruling in another country. Jacquelyn Abbott married her husband, Timothy, in England. The couple had a son a few years later in Hawaii, and a few years after that the couple divorced in Chile. A Chilean court awarded custody to the mother and visitation rights to the father. The court also forbade both parents from leaving the country with their son.

Ms. Abbott ignored the court's instruction, taking her son to Texas, where her ex-husband found her. Mr. Abbott brought a legal action to return his son to Chile, and the United States Supreme Court recently heard his case. A decision is pending. The Supreme Court will address the questions of whether the father has a right to custody, and if he does, what action the United States must take to remedy the mother's abduction.

The decision will surely affect international parenting disputes involving the United States.

What to Do If Your Child Has Been Abducted

If your child has been abducted and taken to a foreign country, contact an attorney who is experienced in matters of international child abduction, including the Hague Convention.

Written by the Office of Richard T. Bell