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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Child Custody Visitation > How Do Custody Cases Work for International Couples?

How Do Custody Cases Work for International Couples?


Few couples have been able to join the fandoms of pop music and gritty other-worldly fantasy tomes. But if ever that cross-section did exist, it was with the pairing of Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner. Ms. Turner is a respected British actress, best known for her role as the character of Sansa in the Game of Thrones television series. To his own merit, Mr. Jonas is an American musician who has enjoyed an extensive pop music career. When these two stars joined together in marriage, and then in parenthood, their widespread fan base did not merely span music and literature genres but geographies as well: as mentioned above, one hails from Britain, while the other is from the U.S.

The couple has most recently made their familial home in Florida. This is why, when Mr. Jonas filed for divorce from Ms. Turner this week, the papers were filed in the Florida courts. This couple’s dissolution will entail a custody arrangement for their two shared children, as well. Given that Ms. Turner is a British citizen, and currently in England working at the time of the divorce filing, this may raise the question in some minds: how does custody work when one parent lives internationally?

Fortunately, U.S. federal courts and many international treaties have laid the groundwork and firmly established guidelines for courts to follow should an international child custody dispute ever arise. This article aims to highlight how those laws are applied in international child custody dispute cases processed in California.

The Basics of International Custody

International custody is a term used to refer to child custody disputes between parents of differing nationalities. This could be due to the parents having different national citizenships, or one parent experiencing international job opportunities, student work visas, etc.

In these situations, if both parents recognize the authority of the U.S. court to decide their custody dispute then there is not really an issue. So long as the court does have jurisdiction of the case then the child custody case would proceed like any other, normal custody case. Issues will generally only arise if one parent raises a challenge to the court’s jurisdiction, or their interest in and ability to process the case.

If a challenge is raised, the state court must ensure that it is following the rules and guidelines provided via federal law and international agreements. While this is an entire area of the law whose nuance cannot be fully explored in this article, the below provides a general overview of some key items.

International Custody U.S. Law

The U.S., made up of each of its member states, will generally follow two main bodies of law when dealing with issues of international custody. These main bodies of law are the Hague Convention, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

  • Hague Convention—an international treaty that provides rules and procedures surrounding international child abduction, and protocols for returning children to their home countries for custody resolution.
  • UCCJEA—provides rules and protocols for determining jurisdiction and requires state courts to follow the law of the child’s home country, should it be determined the U.S. does not have jurisdiction.

It is important to note that not every nation in the world is party to these international agreements. Accordingly, the way they are applied and played out in various custody cases may vary, depending on the other nation involved.

Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

The experienced San Francisco child custody lawyers at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young can help you navigate through any nuance in your own divorce case. Contact our office today to begin speaking with our team.




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