How Does Maryland Handle Foreign Custody Disputes?

Maryland has a diverse population that includes many people from foreign countries and transplants from other states. Problems can arise when child custody arrangements are determined in other countries or other states within the United States, but must be implemented in Maryland. There have also been problems when parents or family members look for more favorable custody decisions in another jurisdiction. In order to combat competition between states for control of custody issues, in 2004, the Maryland Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (MUCCJE) was enacted (replacing the Maryland Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act.)

Under the MUCCJEA, a circuit court in Maryland has jurisdiction to hear a child custody complaint if Maryland is the home state of the child. Ordinarily Maryland honors child custody determinations made in foreign countries, but it is not required to do so if the child custody laws of the other country violate fundamental principles of human rights.

Maryland tends to give broad deference to other jurisdictions. A case last year illustrates how deferential Maryland courts tend to be. In that case, the appellate court considered a child custody case in which the father asserted that he was entitled to custody of her daughter as her sole surviving parent. The daughter had lived with her grandmother in Japan following the death of her mother. She had lived there all her life in accordance with a Tokyo court order. A Japanese court had granted the grandmother guardianship without notifying the father.

When he learned of the guardianship decree, the father sued for custody in Maryland, claiming that his daughter was only in Japan because of the maternal grandmother’s “unjustifiable conduct”. He had only seen the daughter twice in her lifetime. The grandmother responded that under Japanese law, no notice to the biological parent was required. She moved to dismiss the case.

The father argued that Japan should have declined jurisdiction over the case because the mother had taken the girl from their family home without warning and then refused to let him have contact with her. He also argued that Japan’s custody law violated fundamental principles of human rights because it did not recognize his due process rights as a biological parent. In his opinion, this made it acceptable for the Maryland court to accept jurisdiction.

The Maryland trial judge explained that the parent’s rights were not absolute. For example, a court could award a third party custody if a biological parent were unfit to care for the child. The trial judge also concluded that the Japanese custody laws were similar to the best interests of the child standard of Maryland law and dismissed the father’s complaint for custody.

The father appealed the decision, reiterating that Japan was not the child’s home state because the child had been surreptitiously removed from the father without his consent. The Maryland appellate court explained that this argument should have been brought before the Japanese court in a custody dispute. The father also argued that he had the right to custody of his child. The appellate court explained that the grandmother had a guardianship, not custody. With this status, the father remained able to seek custody in a Japanese court. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the father’s complaint, essentially because he could still seek custody in Japan.

If you are dealing with complicated family law matters, it may be essential to your child’s well being to hire a qualified and knowledgeable attorney who can navigate the rules for you. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation.

More Blogs:

Maryland Court Rules Parent Cannot Bargain Away Child Support Without Court Approval, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 16, 2013

Maryland Court Decides Railroad Retirement Benefit Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 11, 2013

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