How to Return a Child to the US: The Hague Application Process

Walters Gilbreath, PLLC

The Hague Convention provides a platform for member countries to work out ways and to process a prompt return of a child from a member country who was removed from his country of habitual residence. If your child is wrongfully taken out of the country, you must try to submit a Hague application as soon as possible after such abduction or wrongful retention has occurred. Don’t wait too long, time is a key factor here. If more than one year passes before you file a Hague application, it may become more difficult to have your child returned under the Hague Abduction Convention. Because your child may get well settled in the new country by the time you seek his / her return. You do not need to have a custody order to file a Hague application and you should not wait to obtain one before filing the application. As mentioned above, any delays in filing could affect the outcome of the case. So, act fast.

That being said, you would also want to make sure that your Hague application is filed properly and is not flawed due to having done it in haste. Try to talk to an Attorney first to see what options are available to you. Depending on the stage of the abduction, you may need to obtain a court order restraining the other parent from taking the child out of the country if that seems a probability to you. You can also contact the central authority in the country from which your child was wrongfully removed or retained as soon as possible to determine the options available to you in seeking the return of your child. Each case involving international parental child abduction is different depending on the facts of the case. Some of them may get more complicated based on specific circumstances and the chain of events leading up to the removal of the child. Those need tailored response. So, be prompt and pursue an informed route after talking to an Attorney.

The Hague Convention and the United States: How to Seek Return of a Child to the US?

The United States adopted the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 1988. Currently the United States partners with 75 other countries (including territories) under the Hague Abduction Convention. The Central Authority for the United States is the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues.

If your child was abducted to a country that is one of the United States’ partners under the Hague Convention and the child is younger than age 16, you may submit an application under the Hague Abduction Convention. If your child was not abducted to one of the 75 partner countries or is older than 16, then you cannot seek assistance under the Hague Convention.

The Hague Convention Application Process

In an application for assistance under the Hague Abduction Convention, applicants must specify whether they are seeking return of the child or access to the child and supply habitual residence information, date of wrongful removal, and the custody agreement. The application is available on the State Department’s website in both English and Spanish, as well as more detailed instructions and a helpful checklist to assist in the application process. Although it is not necessary to have the custody decree to file an application, applicants must be sure that they were actually exercising the right of custody, either joint legal or sole legal, at the time of the abduction and must not have given permission for removal.

Applications may be submitted either to the Central Authority where the child is believed to be or to the State Department. The State Department recommends that the application be submitted to them so that it may be checked for completeness and compliance with the Convention. If the application meets all requirements, the State Department will forward it on the Central Authority of the country where the child is located.

The State Department also emphasizes that applications should be submitted as soon as possible after the removal has taken place. Allowing more than a year to pass before filing could jeopardize the case. Once the application is filed with the foreign Central Authority, that agency is responsible for processing it. At this point, procedures and implementation of the Convention will vary from country to country. The U.S. State Department employs case officers who have an understanding of other countries’ proceedings and will be able to assist applicants in understanding each country’s process.

In some situations, filing the application will be enough to persuade the taking parent to return the child. However, most Hague Convention cases go to trial and will require that the left-behind parent retain an attorney in the country where the child is located. State department case officers may not act as agents or attorneys in legal proceedings, but they will have information helpful to applicants who may need to hire legal counsel in a foreign country.

Click on this link to access the full text of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

Convention Partners with the United States:

  • Andorra (2017)
  • Argentina (1991)
  • Australia (1988)
  • Austria (1988)
  • The Bahamas (1994)
  • Belgium (1999)
  • Belize (1989)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovnia (1991)
  • Brazil (2003)
  • Bulgaria (2005)
  • Burkina Faso (1992)
  • Canada (1988)
  • Chile (1994)
  • China (Hong Kong & Macau ONLY)
    • Hong Kong (1997)
    • Macau (1999)
  • Colombia (1996)
  • Costa Rica (2008)
  • Croatia (1991)
  • Cyprus (1995)
  • Czech Republic (1998)
  • Denmark (1991)
  • Dominican Republic (2007)
  • Ecuador (1992)
  • El Salvador (2007)
  • Estonia (2007)
  • Finland (1994)
  • France (1983)*
  • Germany (1990)
  • Greece (1993)
  • Guatemala (2008)
  • Hungary (1988)
  • Iceland (1996)
  • Ireland (1991)
  • Israel (1991)
  • Italy (1995)
  • Latvia (2007)
  • Lithuania (2007)
  • Luxembourg (1988)
  • The Republic of Macedonia (1991)
  • Malta (2003)
  • Mauritius (1993)
  • Mexico (1991)
  • Monaco (1993)
  • Montenegro (1991)
  • Morocco (2012)
  • Netherlands (1990)
  • New Zealand (1991)
  • Norway (1989)
  • Panama (1994)
  • Paraguay (2008)
  • Peru (2007)
  • Poland (1992)
  • Portugal (1998)
  • Romania (1993)
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis (1995)
  • San Marino (2008)
  • Serbia (1991)
  • Singapore (2012)
  • Slovakia (2001)
  • Slovenia (1995)
  • South Africa (1997)
  • Spain (1988)
  • Sri Lanka (2008)
  • Sweden (1989)
  • Switzerland (1988)
  • Trinidad and Tobago (2013)
  • Turkey (2000)
  • Ukraine (2007)
  • United Kingdom (1988)
    • Bermuda (1999)
    • Cayman Islands (1988)
    • Falkland Islands (1998)
    • Isle of Man (1991)
    • Montserrat (1999)
  • Uruguay (2004)
  • Venezuela (1997)
  • Zimbabwe (1995)

To know more about abductions from the U.S., click here or contact our lawyers.


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