You may wonder what Mother’s Day has to do with international family law jurisdiction disputes, but bear with me.
In Australia, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of May, being 11th May in 2014. In the UK, it falls on the 4th Sunday of Lent, being 3 weeks before Easter Sunday i.e. 30th March in 2014. It falls on many different dates in different countries across the world, from the 2nd Sunday of February in Norway to 22nd December in Indonesia.
For me this presents a dilemma. I live in Australia but my mum lives in England. When should I celebrate Mother’s Day with her, 30th March or 11th May? Well the day is supposed to be about my mum so she wins, 30th March it is. While this means that next Sunday’s event will pass me by, the good news is that despite living 20,000 km away I can still make my presence known each UK Mother’s Day through the power of technology. Ordering a bunch of flowers to her workplace is just a few clicks of the mouse and a small charge to my credit card away.
The world has become even smaller since when I moved to Australia in early 2007, just 7 years ago. Facebook and Skype were in their infancy and the iPhone unknown to Australia for another 18 months. I only bought my first digital camera about 2 years before then. Now people take it for granted that they possess the entire knowledge of the world within their pockets and can, for example, make a call from Uluru to Uruguay within about 10 seconds. Hopping on a plane to anywhere in the globe is also affordable to the majority of the population in Australia.
Not surprisingly the world itself has become much more mobile. People sometimes own property in countries they have never have even visited – a quick search on the internet will return thousands of properties in most countries. Many Australians invest particularly in the USA, New Zealand and the UK but there is a much longer list. Similarly, people often live overseas for a number of years before returning to Australia.
For people who have assets – or children – overseas when their relationship ends things can become complicated, especially if one party and/or children still live overseas. Which country has jurisdiction to hear the dispute? There are many possibilities e.g.:
- If an application concerns property and is filed in Australia, then Australia, unless “clearly inappropriate”;
- In relation to parenting disputes, where a child currently resides or habitually resides, or the “best interests” of the child may be relevant;
- Whether Australia has signed a formal agreement with the other country in respect to jurisdiction of the disputed issues, especially child support or child abduction.
The answer, as so often, is that it depends – and is usually not straightforward. For example the concepts of “clearly inappropriate” and “best interests” of a child are themselves very broad terms, open to wide interpretation. Further jurisdiction questions can arise in relation to enforcing existing overseas family law orders (including child support) in Australia, or vice-versa.
Putting aside these matters, may I wish all the mothers – of Australia – a very Happy Mother’s Day 2014.