One of the unique issues Texas families tend to face with greater frequency than parents in other states is child custody disputes that cross borders. No, there is nothing unique about child custody disputes in the world of family law disputes that are not necessarily limited to the borders of the United States are fairly unique. Our sharing of a border nationally with Mexico and the connections many Texans have with other Latin American countries, not to mention countries around the globe, make Texas A particularly well-suited venue for child custody disputes to occur.
From working with many families who have found themselves involved in custody disputes like this, I can tell you that it is normal to feel out of options and helpless at times. If the worst were to occur and your child was to be removed from the United States without your permission or if you stood to lose custody of your child to a Co-parent who lived in another country, then that would be enough to cause any parent to jump to conclusions and assume the worst was going to happen.
Fortunately, family law attorneys in our area are experienced at identifying potential issues of international child custody disputes and helping families prepare for those problems, and protect against the worst circumstances that could come from them. No attorney or law office in Southeast Texas is better prepared and more well suited to assist you and your family through circumstances like this than the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
If you believe that there is even the smallest risk of a problem involving an international child custody dispute that may be brewing in the background of your life, then I would not hesitate to contact our office immediately. Truly, time may be of the essence for you and your family, and waiting could be TV or severe detriment. This is certainly a subject and topic that you want to get out in front of and do your best to prepare for before something happens and then it's too late. Talking to our attorneys does not create a bad situation out of anything but rather helps you and your family prepare for a bad situation before it becomes worse.
What does child custody refer to in Texas?
When discussing matters related to child custody, we are talking about children under the age of 18 or who have not yet graduated from high school. These minor children are subject to the jurisdiction of a court somewhere regarding issues that we commonly call custody here in Texas. Custodies more accurately or more specifically termed as conservatorships in the Texas family code. Conservatorship refers to the rights and duties that one adult has over another person. In this instance, you are a conservator over your child.
This means that you have responsibilities to provide for your child and the right to make decisions on their behalf. Some of those responsibilities include providing shelter, clothing, food, and the basics of an education. You also have the right to make decisions on behalf of your child regarding their health, education, and general welfare. Even if you have never been to a family law court, by being that child's legal parent, you can take advantage of these rights and the responsibility to provide for the child.
When you decide to move forward to a family law case, these conservatorship's rights and duties will be spelled out for all to see in the final orders of your case. If you are going through a divorce in Texas, those final orders are called the final decree of divorce. Child custody orders will be contained within that document likewise if you and your Co-parent are not married and are going through a child custody case known as a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. Final orders, in this case, will also cover issues regarding child custody.
However, before a Texas family court can issue child custody orders in your case, it must first be determined that the court has sufficient jurisdiction to hear arguments and make decisions on behalf of your family and your children. By living in Texas or having spent a great deal of time here, that alone does not necessarily provide sufficient jurisdiction 4 a Texas court to hear your case. It may be that jurisdiction is appropriate in another state or even in another country.
Jurisdictional issues in Texas child custody cases
To illustrate some of these points a little bit better, let's create a hypothetical situation. Imagine that you are a mother of a four-year-old child who grew up in Texas and still resides in our state. Your family lives here, your job is here, and your home is in Texas. As far as you're concerned, your home will always be in Texas. However, you met a man from Mexico but was on a long-term business assignment in Houston and eventually began a relationship with him. The two of you never married but had been engaged in a long-term relationship with one another.
As these things tend to go, you and this international businessman had a child together, and you all had raised the child here in Texas. Everything was going smoothly until not only were you experiencing problems in the relationship, but your partner did not have their contract renewed with his employer, and he decided to return to Mexico to live. You had assumed that possession of your daughter will be shared and that she would split time between Texas and Mexico. Based on some casual discussions, it was your understanding that your child would be educated in Texas and would live with you throughout the school year.
Therefore, it came as something of a shock to you that a new or former partner sent you an email one day telling you that he would be attempting to gain what amounts to primary custody of your child through a court in Mexico. At this point, your head started to spin. You've never been to Mexico, your child has never been to Mexico, and the thought of losing time with your daughter seemed like the last possible result of any custody negotiations between you and your ex-partner.
While you are somewhat confident in your ability to keep your child in the United States, any threat of having your child lost to an ex-partner living in another country was enough to cause you to take action. Not being the type of person to take a matter like this lying down, you reached out and contacted the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. In a free-of-charge consultation, you sat down with one of our attorneys to go over the law on child custody both in Texas and internationally. Let's walk through what you would likely hear for one of our attorneys if a consultation were held regarding a subject like this.
First off, it is abundantly clear that you and your former partner do not necessarily see eye to eye when it comes to where your child will be living or even the appropriate country to hold hearings on this subject. On the one hand, you have never been to Mexico, and you and your ex-partner did conceive and raise a child in Texas. On the other hand, your ex-partner has lived in Mexico for nearly a year, and he has an extensive support system there with family. Therefore, it is reasonable for you to know which countries' laws will apply to your international child custody case.
The trouble is that if your case ends up being heard in Mexico, you will have to deal with a completely different set of family laws than we have here in the United States and Texas. Not only that, but our judicial system differs from that of Mexico in significant ways. Even if you have some experience and the legal system in The United States, that does not necessarily mean that the experiences you have gained will translate to success in terms of a Mexican legal case. You need to know what you are getting into, or if you have a chance, this case will need to be heard South of the border.
The other major concern you have is the small chance that your ex-partner comes to the United States without your knowledge and then removes your child from Texas without your permission. He hasn't necessarily given you any indication that he would want to do this, but you have seen movies and heard stories about similar things happening to other people. With so much uncertainty around this topic, your mind has drifted towards worst-case scenarios, and this is among the worst of the worst-case scenarios you can envision.
For starters, one of our attorneys will tell you that The Hague convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction would be the treaty that would have much to say regarding issues like the ones you are facing. I understand that this treaty is a mouthful, but you should understand that its purpose is pretty straightforward. The treaty would help make sure that if your child were abducted by your ex-partner and taken to Mexico, the terms of the treaty would help to retrieve your child and get her back to the United States. Both Mexico and the United States are signatories to this treaty.
The most important part of the treaty is used to determine in what country your child custody issues will be heard: the United States or Mexico. If your child were taken to Mexico or even if she would not have been removed and taken to Mexico, the treaty would look to what country your child had been residing in before these child custody disputes arising. In your case, since your child had been born and living in the United States, then jurisdiction would be appropriate here in Texas.
Are child custody orders from the United States honored by other countries?
This is a concern that many parents have when a Co-parent does not reside in our country. When a Co-parent is a resident of another country that is reasonable to be concerned with whether or not the equivalent of a family court in Mexico or anywhere else would honor court orders from a Texas family judge. The reality is that there is no real way to predict if a court in another country will honor United States family court orders.
This is important not necessarily from the perspective of the Hague Convention treaty that we discussed in the prior section of this blog post but more so when it comes to honoring conditions outlined in Texas family court orders. For example, if your ex-spouse were ordered by a Texas family court to pay child support to you, it may or may not choose two orders what the court has said in Texas. If it believes that Texas does not have jurisdiction over you and your child but rather than it has jurisdiction, the court in the other country will almost assuredly not honor The Texas family court orders.
If you get into a situation where there is an international child custody dispute where your Co-parent has filed a lawsuit in another country, then you have to hire an attorney to represent you in your interests in that foreign country. This doesn't mean that you will have to maintain an attorney in both countries until the end of the case, but until you get the jurisdictional issues sorted out, then it would be who've you to have representation in the other country. Simply having someone with boots on the ground in the other location will provide you with an advantage over merely having someone who can file paperwork electronically or even through the mail.
What should you do if you find yourself facing an international child custody situation?
As I mentioned at the outset of today's blog post, it is important for you two to already have a plan in mind if you are facing potential issues regarding international child custody. If you believe that your spouse may be planning to remove your child from the United States, you have to develop a game plan with an experienced family law attorney. Failing to do so could be the difference between a new child being placed in danger are being removed from our country without your permission.
Typically, having a plan means that you will need to plan to file for divorce quickly here in the United States. From a jurisdictional standpoint, there are advantages to saying that you established your case 1st and have a plan in place rather than reacting to the moves of your spouse. Being able to choose the timing then act out a plan of action is much preferable to being in a defensive position for the first few weeks of your custody dispute.
If you are a parent who wishes to have your children reside with you in another country, you have some homework. You need to look at the child custody laws of The United States and compare them to the child custody laws in the country you wish to bring your children to. You may find that Texas is a better venue for your child custody case versus your intended destination. Again, reaching out to an attorney and both locations to get their perspective sounds like a good idea, as well.
Eventually, you will find that even if you can keep your children in the United States, there will be some travel costs associated with your children spending time with the other parent. Recall that a Texas family court has jurisdiction to determine where your children will reside but cannot dictate to your spouse where they will be residing. If they plan on living in another country, the custody orders likely reflect that some travel and Visitation rights will go into place after your case.
You can work with your spouse in the negotiation process to determine how these costs will be split between the two of you. The way you ultimately divide up the costs will be determined by your income, circumstances in the attitudes of both you and your spouse. Take the time to get these issues sorted out rather than attempting to sort them out on the fly once your case is done.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post. Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and how your family may be impacted by a child custody or divorce case.