Q:What is Hague Convention?
A.The Hague Convention is a term used to cover a number of international treaties on different areas of law, ranging from commercial issues, legal procedures and money judgments to international child abduction and adoption. There are many Conventions, each covering a different topic and having its own title. This Q&A publication is concerned with Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, first created October 25, 1980 and since ratified by U.S. and many, but not all, countries.
Q:What is purpose of Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction?
A:The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an attempt to deal with situations where a person has wrongfully taken a child(ren) from one country to another or keeps them in a country without other parentís permission or legal authority to do so. In other words, this Convention concerns wrongful removal/retention from childís state of habitual residence (country of residence).
Q:What is responsibility of each country that signed Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction?
A:Each signatory to treaty agreed to set up a Central Authority to organize each case and act as a clearinghouse for international child abduction issues. For example, United States Department of Justice was designated U.S. Central Authority and, in turn, delegated much of that authority to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Some countries signed on to treaty but have not put much funding nor effort into implementation. Each government has a great deal of power over cases under Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction once transferred within their borders. The referring country, of course, has no real authority at all and therefore one must rely on individual government where child has been taken to use that power. Often, a diligent attorney working on a child abduction case is key to having a child returned.
Q:What resources are available to Central Authority?
A:Each country is very different in resources they apply to Hague cases, ranging from almost nothing to highly sophisticated and coordinated systems. In U.S., for example, United States relies on National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to coordinate efforts among volunteer attorneys throughout United States, Interpol, FBI and also local police where abducted children are found. In addition, National Center maintains contact with requesting parent and their representatives.
Q:How does a case under Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction proceed?
A.A party can go in one of at least two procedural directions to start a case. One, party may independently find and retain an attorney in jurisdiction where child is found. The other method is for party from whom child was wrongfully removed may make a direct application to Central Authority in either childís habitual country of residence or countryís Central Authority in which child is found to seek assistance. The Central Authority then coordinates with an attorney or other proper entities in proper jurisdiction. Following this, normal procedure is to have attorney file paperwork with local court requesting that court (1) order local law enforcement or another entity to pick up child, (2) set a hearing, and (3) order child returned to proper custodian and country. Once child is secured, court holds hearing quickly thereafter to review facts of case and decide whether returning child is proper. It is not necessary for parent from whom child is abducted to attend hearing but it is often more convincing for them to testify in person there. Additionally, it is nice for that parent to be present because courts, when warranted, will normally order an immediate return following hearing and it is often best for parent to be there to comfort child and accompany child home.
Q:How does Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction relate to custody?
A:The short answer is that it really does not relate to custody. One purpose of Convention is to simply return children to their state of habitual residence so that a court there with proper jurisdiction can make appropriate orders regarding child. The court in jurisdiction that a party is asking to order return of a child is not making a custody decision at all; rather, it is just sending child back to childís residence where proper court can make further rulings. Following a childís return, there is nothing in Convention that prevents proper court in childís state of habitual residence from thereafter giving one party or other custody, visitation or even from allowing one party or other to take child out of jurisdiction again (albeit this time with proper court permission). Note that if custody proceedings are occurring in country to which child has been wrongfully removed/retained, those proceedings are to be put on hold until a decision under Convention is made.