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International Custody Battles and Child Abductions

By Snyder & Sarno on April 16, 2013


Child custody issues can be emotionally draining in even the simplest of cases. Add to that custody dispute an international custody battle and child abduction and the situation can seem unbearable.


Take, for example, the recent news story of the Hakken boys: 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase. Joshua and Sharyn Hakken had lost custody of the boys last year because they were found to possess drugs and weapons in a hotel room they were staying in with the children. Recently, permanent custody was granted to the boys’ maternal grandparents, Robert and Patricia Hauser. The day after the Hausers were granted custody, Joshua Hakken tied up Patricia Hauser, kidnapping the boys and leaving on a sailboat with Sharyn, Cole, and Chase to Cuba.


Cuba is not part of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (discussed below) and therefore was not obligated to return the children to the United States. Further, Cuba has a history of harboring United States fugitives, so United States officials were unsure whether Cuba would cooperate in returning the Hakken boys. However, the Cuban government announced rather quickly that it would turn the Hakken family in to United States authorities so that the boys could be returned to their grandparents. Now, Cole and Chase are safe in the United States in the custody of the Hausers, apparently happy and believing that their sailboat trip to Cuba was a vacation. The Hakkens are facing charges of kidnapping, child neglect, false imprisonment, and interference with custody.


As the abduction of the Hakken boys shows, child abduction is a real threat in some families, and if abduction occurs, international custody battles might ensue. Luckily for the Hausers, once Cole and Chase landed in Cuba, they were returned to the United States and to their home rather quickly. This may not always be the case.   


There are two very important things that assist decisionmaking in international custody issues: the Hague Convention and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty signed by many countries around the world that provides a procedure for children who have been abducted and taken to another country to be returned to their home country. Only signatories to the treaty are obligated to abide by it. If a child is abducted from the United States and taken to another country that has signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, then that country has an obligation to return the child to the United States.

The UCCJEA governs custody disputes between states and also internationally. An important aspect of the UCCJEA is that it lays out the rules for determining which state or country has jurisdiction over the child custody dispute, meaning which state or country’s court should hear and decide the dispute. Generally, the child’s home state has jurisdiction over the case. There are instances, however, where the home state will not necessarily have jurisdiction, for example if it chooses not to exercise jurisdiction because the other state or country is a more appropriate forum.

The rules under the Hague Convention and the UCCJEA are many and complex. Snyder & Sarno attorneys are experienced in handling cases involving international child custody disputes. If you are involved in an international child custody dispute, please contact Snyder & Sarno at (973) 274-5200.

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