The Foreign Service Journal - October 2014 - page 44

44
OCTOBER 2014
|
THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Here is a primer on the custody issues involved in
Foreign Service divorces and how to approach them.
BY SUSAN KEOGH , ANN LA PORTA AND D I ANE HOLT
FS KNOW-HOW
Child Custody Issues
in Foreign Service
Divorces
A
Foreign Service parent, whether male
or female, who seeks to take a child or
children overseas in the case of an estab-
lished joint physical custody situation or
a new custody situation can be disadvan-
taged in the courts.
Although laws regarding custody and
divorce di er among jurisdictions, more
often than not judges lean toward pri-
mary custody for the parent who is not moving.
e non-posted
parent can make arguments that overseas life is not good for the
child; citing dirt and disease, crime and insecurity, unfamiliar
culture and schools, and loss of friends and activities. In short,
living abroad is unhealthy and unfamiliar and destabilizing for
the child.
An excellent argument that this is
not
true can, of course, also
be made. But it is important to realize that jurisdictional laws
place a high value on stability, and this is the principal barrier
that needs to be overcome for an FS parent seeking custody.
We o er the following concrete recommendations for actions
to take and information to gather to establish your case, then dis-
cuss some of the legal considerations involved. Our recommen-
dations are based, among other things, on the experience of one
of the authors, who successfully changed joint to primary custody
and moved overseas with her child in 2001.
First and most importantly, make sure you are represented by
a family lawyer who is familiar with the Foreign Service or “ex-
pat” way of life. If your (ex) spouse is represented and you are not,
you are at a distinct disadvantage. Money spent on a competent
lawyer is well spent. Further, hiring a lawyer enables you to dis-
tance yourself somewhat, emotionally, from the proceedings and
allows the professional to help you make decisions.
is is true
even if you have a law degree and a practice.
If you choose to represent yourself, depending on the jurisdic-
tion, there are generally “self-help” centers in the court where you
can get assistance to le motions and organize exhibits.
ese
centers cannot, however, give legal advice.
Reasonable Access Is Key
Laws regarding custody and divorce di er from jurisdiction to
jurisdiction. But most venues recognize the “best interest of the
child” as the determining factor in custody cases.
is means that
the judge will look at a dozen or more factors to determine what
placement would be in the best interest of the child.
ese factors
include the child’s wishes; the wishes of the parents; the child’s
interaction with parents, siblings and others with whom he or she
has an emotional bond; the child’s adjustment to home, school
and community; potential disruptions to the child’s social and
school life; and so on.
Jurisdictional laws place a high value on stability: Disrup-
tions, changes and distant relationships can make a strong case
for the parent staying in the area. In addition, unless one parent
is deemed un t, most states’ laws lean toward the parent who is
most willing to grant reasonable access to the other parent. Your
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