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Texas child custody fight draws to a close

A near-decade-long international child custody fight has come to an end with the birthday of the boy at the center of it all. The boy, who recently turned 16, has officially "aged out" of a treaty that deals with child abduction across national borders, leading a judge to sign an order to dismiss the case between the boy's parents.

The boy was born in Hawaii to a British father and an American mother. The family later moved to Chile, where the parents separated in March 2003. The mother was granted custody of the boy and his father given visitation rights. The Chilean courts issued a decree that prohibited either parent from removing their son from the country without mutual consent.

But in the midst of a dispute over visitation, his mother did leave the country with her son, claiming that limitations of her work visa prevented her from finding a job or adequate housing. Her husband's private investigator found the pair in San Antonio, Texas. The father then went to federal court, asking that his son be returned under the provisions of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The Hague Convention grants parents a "right of custody" as well as a "right of access" to ensure the laws of one country are respected in other nations. More than 80 countries are a party to the treaty, including Chile and the United States.

An appeals court ruled that because the father only had visitation rights, not formal custody, he couldn't claim a "right of custody" under the treaty. Although it said he had a "right of access" that allowed him to see his son, the U.S. Supreme Court later voided that decision. A high court justice said the father lacked the power to say where the boy should live. Under the terms of the Hague Convention, the father only had the authority "to seek assistance from this country in carrying out the Chilean family court's visitation order."

Now that boy has turned 16, it's up to him where he wants to live, and with which parent. He continues to reside in Texas with his mother, who said he expressed relief at the judge's order to dismiss the case. "He just smiled and said, 'That's very good news indeed.'"

Source: CNN, "Child at center of high court fight over custody gets closure," Bill Mears, Feb. 14, 2012

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