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.

4 responses to “Chafin v. Chafin”

  1. sophiae7 says :

    I was also quite confused as to why the New York Times decided to write about this topic. Though after finding out more about this case I have an idea as to why the New York Times decided to write about it. One reason that they might have seen this as an important case to cover might be as a result of globalization. As people all around the world start to become more intertwined, custody issues like the one discussed in this case are going to become more prevalent. Because of this, I think it is important for the Supreme Court to set a precedent for all other future court rulings and it is also important for these cases to become more publicized.

  2. roryblock1 says :

    I, too, was confused about why they would publish it. I was trying to think of reasons and honestly the only thing I could come up with is because they had a lack of other “substantial” news in the paper that day. Maybe there wasn’t enough going on, or anything else to cover. But reading Sophia’s comment, I have to agree. They probably needed something that was more on a global scale, and covering something that is happening right here that involves other countries is an easy way to not have to send someone overseas to report!

  3. Kunaal7 says :

    In addition to wanting to cover a court case that is concerned with more global issues, I think that there are other reasons for why the New York Times would want to cover this case. First of all, most family law cases and child custody cases in particular are decided in state courts, and not taken to the supreme court. Additionally, given the causes obscurity, it could end up becoming a precedent case on determining the custody of a child. Since it is not everyday that such cases come to the Supreme Court, when they do, they should be reported on, making me think that it is not that strange that the NY Times chose to report on this case.

  4. natek7 says :

    I agree with everyone who said that this may have written about in the New York Times because of globalization. With people becoming more connected issues such as this could become more common. In the future this case could serve as a useful precedent. Also this case is an international issue. This case deals with both the United States and Scotland. Because this case could directly affect another country the case becomes much more important.

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