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Papa Don't Breach...The Custody Agreement

For the past several weeks, the custody dispute surrounding Rocco, the fifteen year old son of Madonna and Guy Ritchie, has garnered significant attention in the media. Notwithstanding the inevitable hype due to the celebrity status of this former power couple, the issues surrounding this case are particularly interesting due to the international forces at play. That is, Madonna is a resident of New York while Guy Ritchie lives in England. After Rocco refused to visit with Madonna for the holidays, a New York Judge ordered that he return to her.

This ruling led many to question whether a Court in New York, or any state, can have authority over the return of a child located abroad. The answer to this inquiry will primarily turn on whether the two countries at issue are parties to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (hereinafter "Hague Convention.") Under this treatise, if a child under the age of 16 is a habitual resident of one participating country and is removed to or retained in another participating country over either parent's objection, the child must be returned to the country of his or her habitual residence. In this case, both the United States and England are parties to the Hague Convention. But, this fact alone does not warrant a child's immediate return to the United States. In the highly publicized New Jersey case involving this doctrine, it took approximately five years for David Goldman to secure the return of his son, Sean, after he was taken to Brazil by his mother despite the fact both Brazil and the United States were signatory parties to the Hague Convention. Although this case certainly represents the extreme, in any matter involving the Hague Convention, there are various steps to be taken and procedural hurdles to overcome before a child will be returned to his or her country of habitual residence.

In the case at hand, it is unclear whether the Hague Convention has been invoked by Madonna or the New York Court. It has been several weeks since the New York Court issued its Order yet Rocco has yet to return to the United States. However, Rocco may be prompted to comply with this directive prior to the upcoming Court hearing scheduled in this matter on February 3, 2016. We will stay tuned as this story develops.

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