The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also known as the Hague Abduction Convention, is a treaty that ensures that a child internationally abducted by a parent is returned to their habitual country as quickly as possible. This multilateral treaty was developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) and concluded on October 25, 1980, entering into force on December 1, 1983.
The primary goal of the convention is to preserve a status quo child custody arrangement that existed immediately before an alleged wrongful removal or retention. This is to deter a parent from crossing international borders to find a more sympathetic court to rule a custody battle in his/her favor. Additionally, the child must be under 16 years old for the treaty to apply.
According to the Convention, the removal or retention of a child is “wrongful” whenever it breaches the rights of custody attributed to a person or any other body and if at the time of remove or retention those rights were actually exercised. Even if a parent already has legal custody of a child, the Convention is needed because U.S. court orders may not be recognized in other countries and sovereign nations cannot interfere with each other’s legal systems, judiciaries, or law enforcement.
As of July 2019, there are 101 states are a party to the convention. Like other multilateral treaties, some countries that have signed a Hague Convention treaty with the United States are non-compliant or refuse to hold up the terms of the treaty. In the compliance reports from 1999 to 2008, Honduras was listed as fully “Noncompliant” in each of the ten reports. In these compliance reports, countries are listed as noncompliant, not fully compliant, of concern, demonstrating patterns of noncompliance, or having enforcement problems.
Can countries deny the return of a child? Under the Hague Convention, courts may deny the return of a child for several reasons. This includes if the child’s return could result in physical or psychological harm or if the party seeking return was not actually exercising rights of custody at the time of removal or consented to the child’s removal or retention. If a child has reached an age and degree of maturity and objects to returning, the courts can take into account the child’s view and wishes. Additionally, if the return would violate the fundamental principles of human rights and freedoms in the country where the child is being held, a court may deny the return of the child. Typically, the eligibility period for a Convention case is one year and filing after that period may be denied because the child will have settled into his or her new environment.