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High court rules in favor of military father

The law in the United States is a changing system, and family law is no exception. Matters of child custody, child support and divorce all have to be weighed on a case-by-case basis, and sometimes the highest courts have to rule on family law disputes, effectively setting precedents that could affect untold numbers of cases in the future.

Parents in New York may have seen headlines about a child custody dispute between a military father and his Scottish ex-wife. The United States Supreme Court recently issued a judgment in the case, giving the father grounds to continue to pursue custody of his 5-year-old daughter.

After the former couple split for good, the mother got an order from a federal court allowing her to take the child to Scotland. She was able to do this because Scotland was determined to be the child's habitual residence. In response to that ruling, the father took legal action in an attempt to keep the child in the U.S. while he appealed the decision, but his efforts were denied.

An appeals court then dismissed the father's case, ruling that it was moot because the matter was now in the hands of the Scottish courts. This question of mootness was the issue brought before the Supreme Court.

If a case is moot, then the issues in the case are not considered to be live and thus can't be legally determined. The high court, however, ruled that the parental dispute was still live and that the father has a right to seek child custody through the proper legal channels. The court also ruled that it was still physically possible that the child would someday be returned to her father's custody.

In short, the ruling means that U.S. family law is not necessarily trumped by another country's family law. Parents can still legally seek custody of their children who have been taken across national borders.

Source: Huffington Post, "American Father Wins Supreme Court Case in Custody Dispute," Margaret Ryznar, March 5, 2013

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