x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Child custody case offers opportunity

Child custody cases which cross borders are often legal minefields. But despite the complications, the welfare of children must be a high priority.

Child-custody cases that involve two or more countries are among the saddest, and most complicated, of legal matters.

When a marriage breaks down and custody of the children is at stake, most countries have a mechanism, however imperfect, to regulate the dispute. In many countries, if not most, judges and other officials are instructed by the law that the welfare of the children should be the paramount factor.

But when a case crosses a border, the situation becomes much trickier. A fugitive parent can decamp with the offspring to some place where the parent who has been awarded full or partial custody cannot easily follow. Facts are murky. Paperwork is slow. Different legal systems may impose mutually-exclusive requirements. Everything is expensive.

That is why parents like Christoper Dahm need all the protection the world's legal framework can provide. Mr Dahm, who lives in the US state of Florida, is trying to regain custody of his two-year-old daughter, whose Belgian-American mother took to the UAE where her own parents live. In the US she and her parents face criminal charges of international parental kidnapping. (The UAE has extradition treaties - useful in criminal cases - with some countries, but not with the US.)

We offer no comment on the merits of this particular case. That is for the courts to decide. In general, however, it is apparent that the UAE would do well to seek ways of expediting just solutions in such cases.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is intended to do just that, but its 86 mostly-western signatories include few countries where Sharia is a factor in family law.

This country has however signed the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which on this subject is intended to provide both parents with the right of access to the child, provided that this is good for the child. In some cases the wronged parent may find that agreement to be of some use.

The field of international custody cases remains thorny and intractable, not only here but around the world. In practice it seems evident that cases will continue to be settled - or go unsettled - on a one-by-one basis, with key factors varying from one case to the next. When adults can't agree, it is too often children who suffer.