Alabama Child Custody Case Decided By U.S. Supreme Court

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Mar 19, 2013 | 0 Comments

It's extremely rare that a child custody case makes it before the U.S. Supreme Court.


That the closely-watched case stems from a custody dispute involving a father from Alabama drew our Birmingham child custody lawyers‘ attention.

This was a messy custody case, waged across an ocean, where the Scottish mother had left with the couple's 5-year-old daughter.

Essentially, the court found that even when a child is sent back to another country according to the rules of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the federal courts in America may still hold jurisdiction.

Ultimately, it's a technical issue, but it gives hope to parents who are battling for custody rights overseas.

Here's what happened:

The father is an American U.S. Army sergeant. During his employment to to the Middle East, the mother and daughter lived in Scotland. When he returned, mother and daughter moved to Alabama to be with him.

However, the relationship between the mother and father soon soured. When the mother sought permission to permanently return back to Scotland with her daughter, she did so after obtaining a federal district court order, based on the Hague Convention rules, for which she had to argue that the child's habitual residence was in fact in Scotland.

Immediately thereafter, the father filed for a stay so that he could appeal. That would have prevented the mother from moving until he could have filed a formal appeal. That motion was denied, and the mother was on a plane within hours.

So now the father is fighting for custody in Scotland.

However, the question that lingered was the basis upon which the federal court had denied his request for a stay. The court found it had no jurisdiction because the child was going to be in Scotland, so the point was moot.

But in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the case wasn't moot. A point is only legally moot when the issues are no longer present or the parties no longer have an interest in the outcome. If a case is declared moot, federal courts can't act on it.

The Supreme Court found that the dispute was still very much alive in this case, as the father was continuing to argue that the girl's country of habitual residence is the U.S. Therefore, the federal court did maintain jurisdiction.

The mother had tried to argue that there was effective relief because the Scottish courts would simply ignore the American order to send the girl back. However, the U.S. court found that uncertainty of an outcome is not basis enough on which to render a case moot.

(In addition to getting his daughter back, the father is also fighting for absolution of $94,000 in legal fees he's been ordered to pay the girl's mother.)

The court underscored in its opinion that when children are wrongfully removed or held in another country, they need to be promptly returned. The justices also stressed that it is not in children's best interests to be pawns in a global tug-of-war custody dispute.

Avoiding this, the court said, could be a matter of expediting processes when possible and granting stays when it's legally appropriate.

If you are preparing for a child custody case in Birmimgham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:

American Father Wins Supreme Court Case in Custody Dispute, March 5, 2013, By Margaret Ryznar, The Huffington Post

JEFFREY LEE CHAFIN, PETITIONER v. LYNNE HALES CHAFIN, Argued Dec. 5, 2012, Decided Feb. 19, 2013, U.S. Supreme Court

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama


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