I recently came home from work to find my father-in-law had come from France. His intention is to take my wife and our children back with him for good. I took the kids’ passports and brought them to a friend who is an attorney and put them in his safe.
Is holding their passports enough to keep them in the U.S.? What is the likelihood that she will be allowed to move the kids to France? If she gets the kids out of the country, do I have recourse to get them back?
There’s no history of abuse or anything like that, the marriage just didn’t work. I don’t have the means to fly kids back and forth and am not even sure what my rights would be in France. How do courts in the U.S. generally handle these overseas custody issues?
Safeguarding the passports was a good first step. Your wife would need the passports to get them out of the U.S.A. For now, if you haven’t already done so, do not tell her where the passports are. She can apply for new ones but in the U.S. that requires signatures of both parents unless she has a court order granting her sole legal custody. I do not know how old your children are, but I assume they are not yet over 16. After age 16, it becomes more complicated because they can consent to issuance of a passport and the Hague Kidnapping Convention does not apply to them. I also do not know if your children are French citizens and if so, whether they also have French passports, which is another complication.
You need to hire a divorce lawyer who has experience in international custody matters. File the complaint for divorce and serve your wife ASAP. You should also have your lawyer make an emergency motion to add your children to the Do Not Depart list and prohibit your wife from applying for any U.S. or French passports for the children. When the order issues, make sure it gets emailed to the State Department (review the website for details). Emailing the order will get their names put on a list and they will not be allowed to board an international flight.
Your wife can ask the court to permit the children to permanently move to France. It is a long and involved process and you would have the opportunity to object. Typically, removal cases require a trial. Depending on who is the primary caretaker of your children, your wife would have to prove that she has a real advantage in the move which will trickle down to benefit your children or that such a move is in their best interests and outweighs having you in their lives on a regular basis — a high burden.
If she gets them out of the country before you get an order, contact the Office of Children’s Issues at the state department to get a return request started — France and the U.S. are treaty partners.