Active Military Members Fight For International Child Custody In The United States Courts
Jeffrey Lee Chafin v. Lynne Hales Chafin
Facts of the Case:
- Jeffrey Lee Chafin, a citizen of the United States and an active duty member of the United States Army, is the biological Father of Eris Chafin, now five (5) years of age.
- Lynne Hales Chafin is a citizen of Scotland and the biological Mother of Eris Chafin.
- The parties met in 2005 while Father was stationed in Germany and married in March 2006 in the country of Scotland. Eris Chafin was born in 2007 while Father was still stationed in Germany. Eris is considered to have dual citizenship as a citizen of the United States and as a citizen of Scotland.
- Sgt. Chafin was deployed to Afghanistan for fifteen (15) months in 2007 and 2008. During that period of time, Mother and the minor child lived in her native country, Scotland. When Sgt. Chafin returned to Germany from Afghanistan in 2008, the parties decided to remain separated from one another.
- When Sgt. Chafin was transferred to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, in early 2009, Wife/Mother and Eris joined Father and moved to Alabama from Scotland. Also, in 2009, the child spent several months in Alabama with Father while Mother returned to Scotland for a visit. Toward the end of 2009, the parties decided to resume living together in Alabama.
- The parties’ marital relationship deteriorated and Husband filed for a divorce in May 2010 in the Circuit Court of Alabama. At the time of the initial hearing, the Court determined the parties wished to reconcile their differences and the hearing did not go forward. However, the divorce proceeding was not dismissed.
- The parties continued to live as Husband and Wife, though they did move into separate bedrooms during the Fall of 2010.
- While Husband expressed concerns that Wife had a chronic problem with the consumption of alcohol, her abuse of alcohol began to result in negative consequences for her. On September 23, 2010, she was arrested for disorderly conduct. Later, on December 14, 2010, Wife was arrested for public intoxication. Then, on Christmas Eve of 2010, she was arrested for an incident of domestic violence. She was inebriated at the time of the incident and subsequent arrest.
- In February 2011, Wife was deported to Scotland as it was determined by immigration officials that her 90-Day Tourist Visa had expired. Eris Chafin remained with her Father in Alabama.
- On October 13, 2011, Judge Inge P. Johnson of the Federal Appellate Court of the 11th Circuit ruled that the minor child should be returned to Scotland as Scotland had been her “habitual residence” since 2007. Mother had arranged for the child to be flown to Scotland within hours of the Decision being rendered.
- Father objected and appealed the Decision of Judge Johnson, but the 11thCircuit Court dismissed Father’s appeal of Judge Johnson’s Decision on the basis that the matter had become moot as the child was no longer in the United States.
- Father has now appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States; and, in a surprising decision, the Supreme Court has agreed to accept and hear an international child custody dispute. Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on December 5, 2012.
- The specific issue on appeal is whether a Hague Convention Case becomes “moot” if the child has been returned to his or her country of “habitual residence”. This is a major issue as Judge Johnson ruled that Eris Chafin should be returned to her Mother in Scotland based upon Judge Johnson’s belief that the child had lived with her Mother in Scotland since 2007.
Analysis of the Court’s Decisions:
When I first began to read articles about the Chafin case, I kept reading passage after passage that repeated that Mother and the minor child, Eris, had lived in Scotland since 2007. I felt concern for Father as I did not see how he would have been able to develop a meaningful and loving relationship with Eris. I felt pessimistic about his chances to prevail in a child custody proceeding. But with further research and additional reading of dates and facts, it became apparent that Eris did spend considerable time in the United States with both parents and with Father alone.
Below is a time-line that was created to refute Judge Inge Johnson’s conclusion that Scotland had been the “habitual residence” of Eris and, therefore, that Eris had to be taken from her Father (in Alabama) and returned to her Mother in Scotland:
Eris is born in Germany.
Mother and Eris spend fifteen (15) months in Scotland while Father is deployed to Afghanistan.
The parties decide to live together as a family when Father is transferred from Germany to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. Mother returns to Scotland for several months in 2009 and Eris remains with her Father in Alabama. Near the end of 2009, the parties again decide to live together.
Father files for divorce in May 2010. The parties move into separate bedrooms in the Fall of 2010. Between September 23, 2010 and December 24, 2010, Mother has three (3) arrests wherein she was intoxicated.
Mother is deported to Scotland in February 2011. Eris stays with her Father until October 2011 when she is flown to Scotland to be rejoined with her Mother (a period of 7-8 months in duration).
Eris has now been with her Mother in Scotland for nearly one (1) year. Oral arguments are scheduled in the Supreme Court of the United States in December 2012.
I next identified factors that would favor Mother’s retaining child custody of young Eris. The primary factor is that Eris has been in the care and child custody of her Mother for nearly twelve (12) months without any untoward or unfavorable effects (as far as Father knows!).
Factors that would favor Father’s obtaining child custody of Eris were next identified. Those factors include the following:
- Father has a steady and reliable position with the United States Army. In short, he can provide for Eris financially.
- Contrary to Judge Johnson’s conclusion, Eris did spend considerable time in the United States while her Father was stationed Alabama. He should be able to refute the finding that Scotland had become the “habitual residence” of Eris.
- It appears that Mother has a serious “drinking problem” resulting in three (3) arrests in late 2010.
I believe the Supreme Court of the United States must find that our Courts do not lose jurisdiction if a child has been returned to another country. In the instant matter, I believe that Judge Inge Johnson made a mistake leading to Eris being returned to her Mother in Scotland. The child’s Father should be able to “undo” that mistake and seek child custody of his young daughter in this country only if our Courts are deemed not to lose jurisdiction when a child is returned to a country other than the United States.
Regardless of the outcome in the Supreme Court, Eris’ Father states he will continue to fight for child custody of his daughter whether it is in the United States or in Scotland. He has spent over six figures in legal fees and is grateful for a loving and supportive family who has assisted him with fund-raising activities.
The outcome of this case will have a profound effect upon other cases wherein service members, in particular, are affected by their spouses returning to their native countries while the active duty service member is deployed out of the country.
To read more about this International child custody case heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, please click the link below:
Child Custody – Jeffrey Lee Chafin, Petitioner v. Lynne Hales Chafin
Help With International Child Custody
The family law attorneys of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues have experience in dealing with and litigating cases involving international child custody disputes. We invite you to call upon us if you or one of your family members is experiencing or anticipating such a legal proceeding.
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.