International Child Custody Laws

Dec 14, 2020 4 min read

With the advancement of technology in communication and financing, today's society has become more global, which has led to an increase in international marriages. When some of these marriages end in divorce, complex international custody litigation may ensue and child abduction instances.

International Move Away Cases


The majority of international divorce cases involve parents who will work through custody disputes through their local court. In cases where one of the parents wishes to move with their children out of the United States, an international move away action must be filed. Also called international relocation, these cases require careful observance of U.S. and international child custody laws, which can become complicated when trying to adhere to process serving guidelines necessary for hearings and filed action notifications to the other parent and courts abroad.

International Child Custody and Abduction Laws

Child Custody

It's not uncommon for divorcing parents to initially face custody disagreements during the course of their separation or divorce. Situations involving the wrongful removal of their children to one parent's foreign country without the consent of the other is especially difficult and emotionally distressing. When this occurs, the remaining parent may need to seek enforcement of their rights and protections under the Hague Convention to resolve the issue.

What is the Hague Convention?

The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction (HCCH 1980 Child Abduction Convention) was enacted in 1980 by the United States as an international treaty that dealt with a growing issue of the international adoption of children. The intention was to deter the illegal taking of children to foreign countries without legal authorization. This legislation also created a legal process to bring them back to their home countries and allow the local courts to settle any custody disputes.

Nations that adopted this Convention are called signatories and are subject to the regulations and guidelines within it. This can be an issue for parents whose former partners have wrongfully moved children to their home countries that are not signatory, but this doesn’t mean there are no recourse avenues.

How Does the Hague Convention Enforce Custody Rights Internationally?

The Convention itself doesn’t award custody rights but provides judicial procedures to return children to the signatory country they were abducted from. In cases where a child was wrongfully removed or custody rights were violated, the wronged parent must go to their local court and file a custody action asking for the invocation of the Hague Convention. This court will then determine the countries’ signatory status and which has jurisdiction over the case.

Keep in mind that beyond invoking the Hague Convention and its custody provisions, the left-behind parent will need to provide evidence of the child's status as a habitual resident in a signatory nation before the filing of their action. Additionally, as the petitioner, this parent must also prove that their child was wrongfully taken or retained in another foreign country that is a signatory member.

From the moment the action is filed, there is a six-week time frame that the Convention imposes in which the determined jurisdictional court of the signatory nations to make a final decision on the matter. This time crunch makes quick and proper process service critical in meeting deadlines set out by The Hague Convention, as well as in the signatory nation’s court.

Why You Need an International Legal Process Server for Your Custody Case

Performing process service in an international custody case may not always be straightforward because of issues with locating the other parent, or the nation where they reside may not permit such action. When these situations arise, it requires an experienced international legal process service company like ABC Legal to find a solution that will comply with the Convention guidelines.

From using acceptable alternate means of notification like service by publication or utilizing our expansive network of process servers in 75 countries, our firm will help you prove to the court that you effectuate service by the best means possible for your situation. We retain evidence of this service to your ex-spouse or partner for future submission to the courts as requested.

As the only acting Central Authority of the U.S. Department of Justice, ABC Legal is the official and recognized provider for receiving the service of process requests originating from abroad into the U.S., pursuant to the Hague Service Convention, Inter-American Convention, and Letters Rogatory. To learn more about ABC Legal, our solutions, and subsidiary company Docketly, visit www.abclegal.com

About ABC Legal Services

ABC Legal is the nation’s leading service of process and court filing company and is the official process server to the U.S. Department of Justice. Docketly is a subsidiary of ABC Legal, providing appearance counsel on a digital, custom-built platform that smoothly integrates with our applications and services. ABC Legal’s applications are cloud-based and compatible for use on desktop, browser and smartphones. Our solutions and digital approach ensure process server partners, law firm customers and their clients save valuable time and resources when serving legal notices safely and with maximum compliance, control and transparency. ABC Legal is based in Seattle, WA, with more than 2,000 process servers throughout the U.S., as well as internationally in more than 75 countries. To learn more about ABC Legal, our solutions and subsidiary company Docketly visit www.abclegal.com.

Sascha Mehlhase

Written by

Sascha Mehlhase

Vice President of Growth at ABC Legal. Sascha oversees ABC Legal’s growing product, marketing and customer success teams to transform ABC Legal into the best-in-class technology and service industry leader, while finding new ways to scale. With 20 years of experience in technology, he has advanced product strategies and led global teams in many industries.

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