On Feb. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that American courts could get involved in a custody dispute even if the child in question resides in another country in Chafin v. Chafin.
Michael Manely (J.D. '89) with the Manely Firm PC argued before the Court on behalf of U.S. Army Sgt. Jeff Chafin on Dec. 5. Sgt. Chafin is trying to regain custody of his daughter, Eris, 5. The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had ruled the case moot because the child resides in Scotland.
Manely argued other U.S. circuit courts have ruled that the federal courts retain authority over children removed from the United States. To hold otherwise encourages child abduction, which the Hague Convention on Child Abduction is intended to prevent.
The Court agreed and ruled 9-0 that Sgt. Chafin’s petition was not moot and remanded the it to the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, where Manely again will petition for the return of Sgt. Chafin's daughter.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that ruling for Ms. Chafin, "might also encourage flight in future Hague Convention cases, as prevailing parents try to flee the jurisdiction to moot the case."
On Oct. 13, 2011, Eris, 4, was taken from her father, Jeff Chafin, after U.S. District Court Judge Inge Johnson ruled in favor of her Scottish mother, Lynne Hales Chafin. At trial, Lynne Hales Chafin argued that she never really meant for the United States to be her habitual residence with her daughter, even though she had requested relocation by the Army, had applied for U.S. citizenship, and had written to friends and family that she and Eris had relocated to the U.S.
Within hours of Judge Inge Johnson's ruling, Ms. Chafin moved the child to Scotland. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit refused to review the district court's order, finding the federal courts lacked any power over children once they were removed from U.S. soil. In a highly unusual move, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Sgt. Chafin's petition for writ of certiorari requesting the Court find that a right of appeal exists even with Eris situated in Scotland.
Trial testimony demonstrated Eris was regularly in her father's primary care because of Ms. Chafin's multiple arrests for public intoxication and domestic violence. The child was exclusively in her father's care after her mother was deported to Scotland in February 2011.