International Family Law Views: What Is A Hague Convention?
February 25, 2020
“Hague Convention? Never heard of it . . .” might be a common perspective, even from lawyers. Unfortunately, as citizens living in an international world, we cannot afford to remain uninformed on some nearly world-wide trends and norms. Professionals, including those in family law, who work with the topics covered by the various Hague Conventions need to know much more about them than average citizens. So, one asks, what are the Hague Conventions?
First, it might help to define what is an international convention. Next, we should explore the workings of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. And finally, we can look at some of the conventions that are important, especially in a family law practice – even for lawyers who practice (almost) purely domestic family law.
Essentially, an international convention is a form of binding international treaty, usually between many countries, and generally prospective in focus and universal in scope, such as an agreement that addresses and attempts to resolve an issue of global reach or importance.
The Hague Conference on Private International Law is an entity comprised of member countries that identifies topics for international agreement, convenes meetings, and helps with the drafting, approval, and implementation of international conventions. As stated in its Statute of 15 July 1955, the purpose of the Hague Conference is to work for the progressive unification of the rules of private international law. Private international law, sometimes called conflicts of laws, is that body of rules, norms, and agreements that governs private relationships across borders; public international law, in contrast, is the body of rules that applies to and governs relations between sovereign states, and between sovereign states and other international legal personalities.
The Hague Conference has facilitated a great number of international treaties, some almost universal, and some more limited in application. Among the Hague Conventions of greatest application to the practice of international family law are the following:
- Convention of 5 October 1961 Abolishing the Requirement of Legalisation for Foreign Public Documents (“Apostille Convention,” specifying procedure and form for official documents that are to be recognized in another country);
- Convention of 15 November 1965 on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (“Service Convention,” establishing a process for letters rogatory whereby court documents, among others, can be officially served on citizens of another country);
- Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“International Child Abduction Convention,” essentially a jurisdictional treaty requiring that children wrongfully taken to or kept in a foreign country be returned to the country of “habitual residence” for court custody determinations);
- Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (“Adoption Convention”);
- Convention of 19 October 1996 on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children (“Children’s Convention”); and
- Convention of 23 November 2007 on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance (“Family Maintenance Convention”).
The United States is a contracting party, meaning the Convention has been ratified and is part of the domestic law of the U.S., for all these except the Children’s Convention, which the U.S. has signed but never ratified.
As the above list of Conventions shows, a great number of topics addressed in family law cases are covered by one or more of the Hague Conventions. As a result, simply referring to “the Hague Convention,” without further context, might be confusing and unhelpful. At the same time, knowing that the Hague Conference has facilitated a Convention that covers one or more aspects of an international family law case can make the attorney’s job much easier, and may solve an otherwise significant problem for the client. For more information, full text of the Conventions, and lists of contracting parties, the Hague Conference website is very comprehensive and helpful: www.hcch.net.
© 2020 by Hadrian N. Hatfield
International Family Law Views is meant as an information tool to help people going through the separation or divorce process and those working with them.
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