How do I regain custody of my children when they've been taken out of the country?
One of the most devastating things that can happen to a parent is to have their child taken out of the country without their knowledge or without their permission. Fortunately, there is help available, even locally. Whether you're in Los Angeles County, Ventura County, wherever you are, you can go to your local attorney and you can say, "My child's been taken out of the country. What do I do?" The short answer is we've got to go to that country and get your child back. And, "how do we do that? I don't know any lawyers in that country. Can you help me do that?" And the answer to that question is yes, absolutely. There is a treaty that many countries have signed called the Hague Convention. The purpose of this treaty is to provide a uniform set of rules that everybody obeys, that everybody follows all the countries that have signed it, and these rules are designed to provide the framework in which the courts will decide where is custody and jurisdiction going to be determined. Is it going to be determined, for example, in France, or is it going to be determined in California? Under the Hague Convention, generally the place where the custody analysis is undertaken by the court is where the kids have been living for the past six months at least. So if your children have been living in California for the past six months and all of the sudden they get whisked away by your ex-spouse to France, you need to locate a lawyer in France, and your local family law attorney can help you do that, and that lawyer needs to go into the court in France and explain the circumstances and get an order from the French court commanding the return of that child to the state of California. And it works both ways. If somebody from France or England or one of the signatories to the Hague Convention flees to the United States and ends up in Los Angeles or Ventura County, what do you do? Well if you're living in France and that's happened to you, you locate a local attorney. And that local attorney goes into court here and explains to the court: here are the facts, this child has been living in France for the past five years, and now here they are without notice and without warning in California, and we need to send them back so that the appropriate court can decide which parent is going to be best for this child's circumstances with regard to custody and visitation.
These policies work not only between countries they also work between states and they even work between counties in one state. For example, if a child is taken from Los Angeles County up to San Francisco County, California has its own unique code called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, sometimes called the UCCJEA, and its provisions are very similar to those found in the Hague Convention. Again, the idea is to provide a specified set of rules for determining where the custody fight is going to happen. They don't determine who the better parent is; they don't determine what's best for the child with regard to custody; they simply decide what court is going to hear this case. This is very complicated. Not every country is a signatory to the Hague Convention, and if you have the ability to hire an experienced Hague Convention lawyer or an experienced child custody attorney, you really should take advantage of that if you can.
One of the really difficult things that somebody is faced with if, for example, they're unemployed, they don't have savings, and their child has been taken away from them to another country, is "how do I get my child back now? What do I do?" And there usually are mechanisms in place that will allow you to go to court locally to try to get an order for attorney's fees or some other kind of compensation. There are also mechanisms in place that will allow you to go to court in the other country and try to get attorney's fees so that you not only receive an order that your child has to be returned, but you can also ask that the offending parent pays the cost associated with that. Now, whether or not they have the money to do that is another question. The bottom line is the overriding purpose of the Hague Convention is to determine where the custody decision is supposed to be made. Unfortunately, generally speaking they leave the money aspects of it up to the local courts to decide how best to allocate it.
If you don't have money for fees and costs how then do you get your child back?
If you don't have money and you're concerned that you're never going to be able to pay the freight for getting your child back, there are resources available to you. And at the very least you should come into court, get yourself in front of a local judge, ask the judge to instruct the district attorney to locate and return your child to you.
Generally speaking, if you're out of work and you don't have any money, and your child is taken from you to another country, in very many respects you're on your own. And that's not fair and that's not right, but that's reality. But that should not stop you from going into court, that should not stop you from representing yourself and explaining to the judge what has happened, and asking the judge for as much help as the Judge can give you. The judge can appoint the district attorney to locate your child and hopefully return your child as well, but it's very complicated.
If your child has been taken to a country that is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, then you are literally at the mercy of the laws of that country. You need to go to that country, you need to present yourself to the court system there, you need to explain your situation, and you need to ask them to give you your child back so you can bring your child back home. Maybe you'll be successful and maybe you won't, depending upon the laws and the customs of the country to which your child has been taken.
As an attorney in Los Angeles and Ventura County, I am able to help clients secure representation in most civilized countries.