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Getting your children back when the other parent took them abroad

Sometime during a normal visitation weekend, your former spouse took your children and boarded a plane for Paris. You have custody of your children and did not receive notification about this trip to the city where your ex-spouse grew up.

Now you discover that he or she plans to stay and keep your children there. How do you get your children back?

The Hague Convention treaty

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction became effective in December 1983. The main purpose is to keep an existing child custody agreement in force.

Some parents cross international borders in hopes of finding a court that will rule in their favor in terms of granting custody. However, the Hague treaty enforces the rule that sovereign nations must keep from interfering with the legal systems of other countries. As of July 2019, 101 nations or states were treaty participants, including France and the United States.

Potential for denying the return

It is possible for a court in France to deny your children’s return to the U.S. and your responsibilities as the custodial parent:

  • If you were not exercising the right of custody at the time your children left the U.S.
  • If your children could face psychological or physical harm in returning to your care
  • If your children’s return could violate the principles of human rights and freedoms
  • If the French court considers your children old enough to object to the return

Under the rules of the treaty, you do not necessarily need to show a custody order to prove that the other parent violated your custody rights by taking your children to France. 

If you wish to present a case to the Hague Abduction Convention for your children’s return, you have up to a year to do so. If you do not act within that period of time, the assumption will be that your children have settled into their new environment in France, and the Convention would see fit to deny your claim.