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Child custody case to be determined in Georgia, not Italy

Any child custody case can be difficult and highly emotional. When it involves courts from two different countries, a child custody battle can be even more challenging. Recently, the Georgia Supreme Court reviewed one such case.

An Italian woman married her husband in Italy in 2002, the same year the couple's son was born. The family later moved to the United States, where they lived in Athens from 2004 through 2007. During this time, the woman taught Italian at University of Georgia, and the man was a graduate teaching assistant with the university's Department of Romance languages.

During the time they lived in Georgia, the man was arrested for committing domestic violence. Two months after his arrest, the woman brought her son to Italy, where she filed for divorce.

In response, the husband filed a complaint with the Italian Ministry of Justice under the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. In November 2007, he filed for divorce in Clarke County. A Superior Court judge granted him temporary custody of the boy. This ruling gave rise to an international custody battle, and an Italian court granted custody of the boy to the mother only months later.

In April 2009, the Italian court determined that Georgia law applied only to the divorce and not to the child custody claim. Last February, the Clarke County Superior Court decided the Italian court had jurisdiction and dismissed the man's case.

On Monday of this week, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a Georgia judge, rather than an Italian one, has the right to decide the outcome of the child custody case. This court referred to the state's Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, which states that only a child's home state can determine a custody question. The home state, it says, is where the child resided for six months before any custody claim.

This decision is important because it answers difficult questions about jurisdiction.

Source: Athens Banner-Herald, "Custody dispute to be decided in Georgia," Joe Johnson, 8 Feb. 2011

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William C. Gentry, Attorney at Law

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