What if Your Child Is Taken Out of State or Out of the Country? - Feinberg & Waller, APC

"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 are in Los Angeles County, Ventura County, wherever you are, go to your local attorney and you can say, "My child has 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. "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 universal 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 the children have been living in California for the past 6 months and all of a 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, explain the circumstances, and get an order from the French court commanding the return of that child to the state of California. 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 are living in France and that has happened to you, you locate a local attorney and that local attorney goes to the 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, without warning in California and we need to send them back so that court, the appropriate court, can determine which parent is going to be best for this child's circumstances with regards 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 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, 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 is if for example, they are unemployed, they don't have any money and their child has been taken away from them and taken to a separate country. How do I get my child back now? What do I do? There are usually mechanisms in place that will allow you to go to court locally to try to get an order for attorneys fees, some kind of compensation. There are mechanisms in place where you can go to court and try to not only receive an order that your child has to be returned, but also ask that the offending parent pays the cost associated with that. Whether or not they have the money to do that, that is not the question. 

Bottom line is the overriding purpose of the Hague Convention is to determine where a custody decision is supposed to be made. Unfortunately, generally speaking, the money aspect of it, it is up to the local courts to decide how best to allocate it. If you don't have money and you're concerned that you're never going to be to afford to pay the rate to bring your child back, there are resources available to you. At the very least, you should come into court, get yourself in front of a local judge, ask the judge to instruct your district attorney to locate and return your child for you. Generally speaking, if you are out of work and you don't have any money and your child is taken from you out of the country, in very many respects you are on your own. And that's not fair and that's not right, but that's reality. That should not stop you from going to court. That should not stop you from representing yourself and explaining to a judge what has happened and asking the judge for as much help as the judge can give you. The judge can appoint a district attorney to locate your child and hopefully, return your child to you as well, but it is very complicated. If your child has been taken to a country that is not a signatory to the Hauge 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. You need to ask them to give you your child back, so you can go back home. Maybe you will be successful, maybe you won't, depending upon the laws and customs of the country in which your child has been taken to.  As an attorney here in Los Angeles and Ventura County, I am able to help find and secure representation in most civilized countries."

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