‘Gossip Girl’ Star’s Battle Highlights Difficulties of International Custody Disputes


Divorce and custody battles can be wrenching for any family. But when one parent has international citizenship, the legal issues quickly become highly complex. Former “Gossip Girl” star Kelly Rutherford for years has been engaged in a bitter custody dispute. Against the star’s will, her two young children now live in France and Monaco with her ex-husband.

A Lengthy Trans-Atlantic Battle

In late 2015, Rutherford was granted visitation with the children and now receives a monthly stipend to defray travel costs. But Rutherford’s battle stretches back several years. In a 2013 custody hearing, a judge sided with Rutherford’s ex-husband and dropped a requirement that he pay for the children to visit their mother in the United States. The actress declared bankruptcy that same year, primarily due to significant legal fees related to the protracted international custody case.

Throughout the legal fight, Rutherford has questioned the seeming confusion of the legal system over jurisdictional issues and lamented that her children could be “deported from their own country.” She also noted that a father who isn’t American had won in an American court of law.

Complex Issues in International Custody Cases

A number of state and federal laws govern determinations of child custody, including in international cases. Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, U.S. courts define a child’s home state as one where the child has lived with a parent for at least six months or where a child has meaningful connections to a parent.

The federal act has been adopted in 49 states — in all but Massachusetts. The act also provides that U.S. courts treat foreign countries as they would treat states for child custody cases, and Texas’ statutes also reflect the stance of treating foreign countries as states. Texas law notes that in most cases, a child custody ruling from a foreign country — if issued according to facts and conforming with the jurisdictional guidelines of Texas law — will be honored in the state. However, the law also provides that state courts are not required to honor such rulings if child custody laws in the foreign country violate fundamental human rights principles.

Despite the language of the federal act and state laws, moving children between states and countries can bring up challenging legal issues. As highlighted in the Rutherford case, determining which state or country has jurisdiction to make child-custody determinations or to modify custody orders can be difficult. Often, the right to enforce custody determinations made in another country is not clear. International child custody cases are complex to say the least.

Consult with a Knowledgeable Custody Attorney

Drawn-out custody battles can make children fearful and erode their feelings of stability and trust, and they can increase the possibility of criminal charges if a parent does not comply with a custody order in another state or country. For parents involved in international custody disputes, it’s especially important to work with family law attorneys who are knowledgeable in international custody and jurisdictional issues. For assistance, contact the experienced family law attorneys at ONDA.