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International child custody dispute: child to be returned to Turkey

You may have heard about an ongoing international dispute between the Clifton-area father of a 9-year-old girl and her mother, who lives in Turkey. The mother claims the girl's father brought her to the United States illegally when she was five years old, perhaps in an effort to take advantage of New Jersey's child custody laws, which he may have thought would be more sympathetic to his situation.

Both of the girl's parents are Turkish, and the child was born in the New Jersey when the parents were visiting the U.S. According to the mother, in 2008 she agreed to allow the girl to accompany her father on a trip to Italy. Instead, he took the girl to the U.S., settled down in Passaic County, and refused to return her. The father claims she gave permission for the girl to come with him to America.

This case is interesting in part because the situation is the reverse of the numerous, heartbreaking stories we have read about in the past few years, where non-U.S. citizen parents have illegally taken their children out of the U.S. and settled in their home countries. When those countries are not signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the American parents are left with very little recourse under the child custody laws of other countries.

Not so in this case. Here, the mother's U.S. lawyers, sponsored by the State Department, have been the ones to appeal to the Hague Convention to compel the girl's return to her mother. As a signatory to the Hague Convention, the U.S. has pledged that all child custody disputes are to be handled by the laws of the child's home country.

This case is also interesting because the girl has been settled in New Jersey for five years and appears to be doing well here with her father. Continuity of the child's living situation is generally an important factor in child custody decisions, and can be considered as a factor in Hague Convention cases.

The main legal issue here is ultimately not the child custody arrangement. The issue is which courts -- those in New Jersey or in Turkey -- have the authority to make the child custody decision.

Last year, a Passaic County family court judge ruled that the Hague Convention requires this child custody dispute to be decided by the courts of Turkey and ordered child to be returned to her mother. Last week, the New Jersey Superior Court's Appellate Division affirmed that decision. It appears the father may be planning to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Certainly, if the mother's claims are true, it must feel like simple justice for her daughter to be returned to her immediately. However, considering that the girl has lived nearly half her live in New Jersey and is a U.S. citizen, her return to Turkey has been delayed by the Supreme Court while it hears arguments on whether to accept the father's appeal.

Sources:

  • NorthJersey.com, "Child living in Clifton with father must return to mother in Turkey, court rules," John Petrick, Aug. 7, 2012
  • NorthJersey.com, "NJ Supreme Court delays return of Clifton girl to Turkey," John Petrick, Aug. 10, 2012

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