Chafin v. Chafin
The New York Times weighed in today on the Supreme Court case that we heard last Wednesday in Washington — interesting, because it was not a well publicized case. But here it was on the editorial pages of the Times this morning. Why do you think the Times decided to write about this topic?
Chafin v. Chafin
An international treaty called The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sets rules about where child custody disputes should be resolved when the parents are in different countries. The treaty puts a premium on swift resolution, but a speedy ruling by a trial court to let one parent take the child overseas without an opportunity for the other parent to appeal can mean a mistaken ruling stands unfairly.
That is the issue in Chafin v. Chafin, which the Supreme Court heard argument on last week.
Sgt. First Class Jeffrey Lee Chafin, an American, married Lynne Hales Chafin, a British citizen, in Scotland in 2006. Their daughter, E.C., was born the next year in Germany, where he was stationed. Mrs. Chafin took her to live in Scotland while the sergeant served in Afghanistan.
The family was reunited in Alabama when he was transferred there, but in 2010 he filed for divorce, temporary custody of E.C. and a restraining order against Mrs. Chafin, who had been arrested for domestic violence. She was deported, and, under The Hague treaty, she asked a federal trial court in Alabama to let E.C. return to Scotland so a court there could decide which parent should get custody. The court granted her request.
Sergeant Chafin’s brief said that he immediately asked the district court to stay its order pending appeal. But the court denied that motion and issued a one paragraph order permitting Mrs. Chafin to take E.C. to Scotland that same day, and she did. When the sergeant appealed the trial court ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit said there was no longer a case to decide since E.C. was gone. Yet the Fourth Circuit, reviewing a similar case several years ago, ruled that removal of the child did not make the case moot.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. sensibly observed that “the best thing is to hold things up briefly, so that the child doesn’t go overseas and then have to be brought back.” If there is no appellate review, he said, the message for other parents will be, “Get on the first plane out and then you’re home free.” The Supreme Court should support the principle that any losing parent has a right to appeal.