Lawyers for Jeffrey Chafin, a sergeant in the US Army, have urged the US Supreme Court to overturn a 2011 decision granting custody of his five year-old Eris to her Scottish mother.
A court in Alabama granted custody to Lynne Hales after her marriage to Sgt Chafin broke down. The decision was made on the basis of the international Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, of which both Britain and the US are signatories. Judges agreed that Lanarkshire was the child’s ‘habitual residence’ for the purposes of the treaty.
Sgt Chafin recalled outside the Supreme Court that he had only had 20 minutes to say goodbye to his daughter after the Alabama ruling.
“It was horrible. She didn’t know what was going on. She didn’t understand and she was looking to me for answers and I couldn’t give them to her. Eris is my everything. That’s why I’m fighting so hard to get her back into a safe place. I told her I would do everything in my power to get her back, and that’s what Daddy’s doing.”
The sergeant claims that his ex-wife is not a responsible parent and has alleged that she threatened him with a knife., a claim she denies. According to report in the Telegraph, Mrs Hales was arrested in December 2010 for public drunkenness and deported when authorities discovered she was living in the country under an expired tourist visa.
Her lawyer argued to the Supreme Court that under the terms of the Hague Convention, US authorities no longer had jurisdiction in the case. “Once the doors close on that plane, and that child arrives back in Scotland, it’s over”, he said.
In any case, he added, the Scottish authorities would not comply with a US order to return the child with a local legal ruling.
The US Supreme Court only hears a fraction of the domestic disputes which apply for a hearing. It may take several months to reach a verdict.
Photo of the US Supreme Court building by Rob Crawley via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence