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Court applies ‘mature child’ test in international custody dispute

Dear Clients and Friends,

A federal judge has decided that a 13-year-old boy who didn’t want to return to his mother in Germany could stay with his father in Rhode Island until the parents’ custody dispute was resolved.

The couple was married in the U.S. in 2007 and their son, “E.C.,” was born two years later. The parents divorced in Rhode Island when he was eight, agreeing to joint legal custody but physical custody with the mother in Germany.

In the ensuing years, E.C. would visit his father during the summer and school vacations. In August 2022, after a visit with his father, the boy “broke down” in the airport and refused to board his flight back to Germany.

The father kept his son in the U.S. and apparently enrolled him in school. Meanwhile, his ex-wife petitioned the federal court in Rhode Island to order E.C.’s return to Germany under the Hague Convention, an international agreement the U.S. is part of that prohibits someone from taking a child across an international border or child or keeping them away from their habitual residence.

But the court denied the mother’s petition, pointing to evidence that overcame the “strong presumption” that a child be returned to his country of habitual residence. Specifically, the judge applied the “mature child” exception, which enables a court to refuse to order a child’s return if the child objects to being returned and is old and mature enough to have his or her views taken into account.

Here, evidence from a court-appointed guardian representing the boy’s interests described the deliberativeness of the boy’s decision-making process and his concerns that his school in Germany would not give him credit for schoolwork he completed in Rhode Island. The judge also took into account the boy’s concerns about his living arrangements in Germany.

The outcome of any case depends on its own facts and circumstances. But if you want to learn more about what might happen in an international custody dispute, do call us to discuss your situation.



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