Ready, Set, Go to Federal Court: The Hague Child Abduction Treaty, Demystified
By Jennifer Baum
American Bar Association
The need for the treaty is even greater now than when it first went into effect. The ease and affordability of present day international travel combined with the increasing globalization of business, industry, and education, have created more opportunities than ever for the formation of cross-border families, and along with that, the inevitable increase in cross-border family dissolution. As the number of internationally relocating parents grows, so too grows the number of child repatriation cases under the Hague Convention.
However, the number of lawyers available to handle such cases, especially on behalf of indigent families, has not kept pace. Some parents endure months without representation for cases which the Convention contemplates taking just weeks to complete, resulting in unnecessarily prolonged separations or status uncertainty, and impacting, sometimes permanently, a child’s relationship with the left behind parent. Not surprisingly, the situation is more serious for indigent parents, as there is no right to counsel in Hague Convention cases, and the parent who is unable to afford an attorney must seek pro bono counsel (and if they are the left behind parent they must do so from abroad), often while laboring under a language barrier, making access to U.S. counsel and courts even more onerous.
The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of the Convention, and urge more child welfare, matrimonial, and pro bono lawyers to consider representing parents (including indigent parents) and children on Hague cases. The subject matter of these cases—the legal rights of children and families—is not so dissimilar from the core work of the state court family law or child welfare professional, even if the cases are generally heard in federal court. Hague child abduction cases are challenging, fast-paced, and profoundly meaningful, and they can also lead to the development of an exciting and rewarding new practice area.