Supreme Court to Hear International Child Custody Dispute

The Supreme Court announced Monday it will settle a nasty international dispute between parents who disagree over where their children will live.

The case present the justices with different interpretations of a treaty designed to decrease international custodial disputes. It focuses on a mother's decision to take her child from Chile to live in the United States. She violated a Chilean court order and her act was done without the father's knowledge. He hired a private detective who found the pair living in Texas.

Timothy Abbott, a British born astronomer claims an international treaty requires the child's return to Chile where he has visitation rights. Lower courts have so far ruled against Abbott, in part, because of specific language in the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. That treaty calls for a child's return when there is a breech in custody. Abbott only has visitation rights and the courts have concluded those limited rights don't rise to the level necessary to invoke the treaty.

Jacquelyn Abbott and the boy who is not named are both United States citizens. She agrees with the lower courts interpretation of the treaty highlighting a distinction between rights of custody and access. Furthermore, she argues that because the child now lives in Texas, the boy's father is seeking "a draconian remedy of mandatory return of a child to a country from which his sole custodial parent, a U.S. citizen, is absent."

The Court asked the government to give its views on the case and a month ago, Solicitor General Elena Kagen encouraged the justices to grant the petition. In siding with the father, Kagan argued the previous court rulings were incorrect and that a proper reading of the treaty language leads to an inclusive definition of "rights of custody" that covers the father's claims.

Abbott, for his part says the adverse rulings of the lower courts "undermines bedrock constitutional principles and creates perverse incentives for would-be child abductors."

The justices will hear the case no earlier than October.