Supreme Court Hears Child Custody Case Arguments
Of all the cases presented to be heard by the United States Supreme Court, only 1 percent of them are actually chosen. It is extremely rare to find a child custody case in the chosen few. But just recently, the Court heard oral arguments in the case, Chafin v. Chafin, 11-1347.
The case is an international custody dispute involving the five year old daughter of Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Lee Chafin, an American citizen, and the child’s mother, who is Scottish. The little girl was born in Germany with dual United States and United Kingdom citizenship. When Sgt. Chafin was deployed to Afghanistan, his wife took their daughter and moved to Scotland, establishing a residence there. When Chafin was transferred to Alabama, the family reunited and resided in Alabama.
Shortly after the reunion, marital problems arose and Chafin’s wife filed with the federal district court to return with their child to Scotland. She successfully argued that the child’s habitual residence was Scotland, and pursuant to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, she was able to secure an order by the court. Chafin filed a motion to stay, which was denied, and his wife took their child and moved to Scotland, where she quickly filed for Scottish custody proceedings, which, fourteen months later, are still pending.
Meanwhile, Chafin appealed the district court’s order, which the appeals court turned down, saying the issue was moot since the child was living in Scotland. The appeals court remanded the case to the district court to vacate its order and dismiss the case as moot.
According to law professor Margaret Ryznar, in legal terms, a case is moot if there is no case for the appeals court to resolve. The 11th Circuit Appeals Court made the determination in the Chafin case that the case was moot because the child was now living in another country. But in another case, the 4th Circuit took a contrary position, permitting such appeals as not being moot. This is referred to as a circuit split and it is what the Supreme Court’s decision will resolve.
How the Court decides this case is anyone’s guess. However, during oral arguments, one of the Justices expressed concern about shuttling the child between the United States and Scotland. Whatever the outcome, hopefully it is the best interest of the Chafins’ little girl that is best served.
If you are involved in a custody dispute, make sure you retain an experienced family law attorney to represent you. As this case show, you never know how complicated a case may become.