Mon., December 3, 2012 4:40pm (EST)

Custody Case Goes To Supreme Court
By Orlando Montoya
Updated: 1 year ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
An Alabama judge ruled Sergeant Chafin's daughter's "habitual residence" was in Scotland and so Scottish judges should determine custody under the treaty. The case could help settle what "habitual residence" means for always moving military families. (photo Jeffrey Chafin)
An Alabama judge ruled Sergeant Chafin's daughter's "habitual residence" was in Scotland and so Scottish judges should determine custody under the treaty. The case could help settle what "habitual residence" means for always moving military families. (photo Jeffrey Chafin)
The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in an international child custody case involving a Georgia-based father.

The case could have far-reaching implications for military personnel and their children.

Sergeant Jeffrey Chafin now stationed at Fort Stewart lost custody of his five-year-old daughter Eris when a federal court in Alabama ruled the child's "habitual residence" was in Scotland.

"I had about 20 minutes or so to say goodbye to Eris, and she left," Chafin says.

Chafin married a Scottish woman he met in Germany.

He says the child lived with him while he and his wife tried to work things out in Alabama where he was stationed.

The decision could help define what "habitual residence" means to always-moving military parents.

"It's going to help a lot of families," Chafin says. "That's the big picture, is that this has the potential of helping so many people."

Chafin is using a child abduction treaty to try to convince federal courts his child, Eris, belongs in the United States.

"A lot of military are married to foreign nationals," Chafin says. "There's a lot of families that end up in the same situation, which I'm finding the more and more I'm digging, and the more I'm asking around, there's a lot more than people know about."

Lawyers for both Chafin and his ex-wife say the US Supreme Court is taking the case because lower courts disagree over provisions in an international treaty.

Steven Cullen, the attorney representing Lynn Chafin, says the courts will have to determine where the custody question will be decided.

"If you look at it through, 'Where was the last time these parents had any agreement about where this child should be?'" Cullen says. "And the last time they had an agreement, the judge found, was Scotland."

Chafin's lawyer, Michael Manley, says the Alabama court erred when it ruled it had no jurisdiction.

"Georgia, Alabama, Florida, the Eleventh Circuit have a rule that says whenever children are taken beyond our boundaries, the boundaries of the nation, our courts lose all jurisdiction over them," Manley says. "They're just gone. The Supreme Court has taken this case on to set one rule for the whole nation."

The court is scheduled to hear the case on Wednesday.