U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Considers International Custody Dispute Involving Army Sergeant


The U.S. Supreme Court considered on Wednesday whether an Army sergeant’s appeal in a custody dispute is moot because the child has already left the country with her mother.

U.S. Army Sgt. Jeff Chafin wants to appeal a district court order that his daughter, Eris, should be returned to Scotland because that was her country of residence, report the New York Times and the National Law Journal. Since then, the child and her mother have lived in Scotland for 14 months.

The NLJ outlines the facts of the case. Chafin’s wife, Lynne, a U.K. citizen, had given birth to their child in Germany in 2007 when Jeff Chafin was stationed in the country. But when Jeff Chafin was deployed in Afghanistan, his wife and daughter moved to Scotland. Jeff Chafin was transferred to Alabama in 2009 and his wife briefly joined him, reportedly in an attempt to reconcile. But Jeff Chafin filed for divorce and removed his daughter’s passports. After Lynne Chafin was deported, she sought return of her child under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, winning in the district court in Huntsville.

Chafin’s lawyer, Michael Manely, argues the appeal is not moot, in part because a reversal would place the child’s residence in the United States, and a Scottish court might allow courts here to determine custody.

Stephen Cullen, a lawyer for Chafin’s ex-wife, Lynne, said an appellate ruling would be moot because it would not affect Scottish courts, according to the stories. “The effect that any appeals court could give would be zero in the Scottish court, nothing,” he said.

The NLJ summarizes the justices’ reaction this way: “Some justices seemed uncomfortable with the notion that there could be no appeal in these circumstances. Others worried that an appeal could result in competing orders for return of the child and that would undermine the primary objective of the Hague Convention: an end to the back-and-forth transfer of children by the speedy resolution of their ‘habitual residence.’ “

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Supreme Court to Hear Army Sergeant’s Bid for the Return of His Daughter”

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