Seattle and Bellevue are home to a fluid cultural community of international high-tech professionals recruited by Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft. It’s what makes living in the Northwest a true springboard to the world. But for global families, the adventure of living here can quickly become an epic nightmare when one spouse decides to head back to a native country and wants to take the kids. When you add the Covid-19 crisis, another layer of fear and anxiety naturally skyrockets emotions for everyone involved.
The Covid-19 crisis will not be over soon. Some parents might not trust how the United States is handling the pandemic or do not trust how their native countries are handling the pandemic. Some parents might see this time as an opportunity to go back home while their children can continue online school from anywhere in the world. Perhaps their home country has less COVID-19 cases and they have a child with a compromised immune system. Clearly keeping children safe, addressing new concerns around access to education and child custody are paramount concerns.
Before you do anything, it’s important to consult an attorney so you do not take any actions that may harm your case and your family. When I first meet with clients who are faced with these agonizing decisions, I start with a break down of getting some important basic facts to protect a parent’s interests:
• What is the immigration status of the parents and the children? Work visa, permanent resident, dual citizenship?
• Which parent would like to stay in the United States and why?
• Which parent would like to return to their native country and why? Are both spouses foreign born or just one?
• What is the current situation, family life for each spouse as it relates to native countries? Are there living relatives outside of the United States? Is there extended family here in the United States?
• Does the home country have any travel restrictions related to COVID-19?
• Is the home country a signatory of the Hague Convention on International Kidnapping?
• How long has the family lived and worked in the United States?
It’s unfortunate, but family law attorneys are often called when one parent has travelled to a native country with children without the other spouse’s consent. A typical scenario is that one spouse has left the United States to go visit grandparents and refused to return to the United States. There are laws that protect against parental kidnapping. For example, the Hague Convention was enacted in 1980 to deter international child abduction and kidnapping; however, it has not been signed by all countries in the world.
In international relocation custody cases the court will often consider the historic parenting roles of each party and the impact the relocation will have on the children. Courts will also look at the ability of a non-custodial spouse to live or visit that country, and the enforceability of custody orders or arrangements regarding that country.
While international child custody cases can be complicated, it’s important not to panic, but get the right legal advice from an experienced attorney.
Our firm is here to help.