Abbott Dissent: Opposing View on Hague Convention

May 20, 2010 | Child Custody, Court Decisions, Legal Perspective

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

Yesterday, I posted a summary of Abbott v. Abbott, 530 U.S. ___ (May 17, 2010), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a Chilean non-relocation order was a “right of custody” under the Hague Convention, requiring the Texas court to return a child to Chile after the mother relocated to Texas without permission. The Abbott decision was an opinion of the majority, including six of the nine Justices. Only Justice Stevens dissented, with Thomas and Breyer, JJ, joining him. This post will look at the dissenting opinion.

In his dissent, Justice Stevens described the difference between “rights of custody” and “rights of access” under the Hague Convention. If a parent’s “rights of custody” are violated, the courts must return the child to the jurisdiction that granted those custody rights. On the other hand, if a parent’s “rights of access” are violated, there is no duty to return the child. Justice Stevens argued that under Chilean law, the father in this case did not have what we would call “joint legal custody”; that is, the right to participate in major decisions concerning the child’s health, education, upbringing and religious training. The non-relocation order was merely a restriction on the mother’s custody rights, not “rights of custody” that would justify the more stringent remedy under the Hague Convention. Since the father did not have any rights or responsibilities to provide for the child’s care, the Justice argued, he should not have been able to interfere so deeply with the mother’s custody rights.

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