Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The laws are failing expats with children

You had better think about them!
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Recently I've been looking into acquiring the French Blue Card. This seems strange as my wife is French and I can legally live and work here as long as we're married. We're quite happy together, so why would I want the EU Blue Card? Part of this, frankly, would be for having first-hand knowledge of a process I sometimes write about, but the other part is simply for insurance: if anything were to happen to my wife, I still want to be able to raise our daughter here.

An immigration specialist I spoke with assured me that as a parent of a minor French child, so long as I have been a primary caregiver for at least two years, I have the right to remain in France. Not quite as good as the Blue Card, but much better than being deported back to the US! I'm lucky that in this case, France has looked into this matter and ensured that the right thing is done. Others are no so lucky.

Your author and hisdaughter
in Meaux, France
A Canadian friend of mine living in Amsterdam sent along this horrifying news article : mom can't leave Canada with children, or stay either. In short, an American woman married a Canadian man, but he would never sign the immigration paperwork or sponsor her to remain in Canada. Now that they've separated, she has a restraining order forbidding her from removing the children from Canada, but she has no legal right to remain in the country.

We're transforming from squabbling nation-states into a global society, even if we maintain separate governments and tighten our borders. Our legal frameworks just aren't up to the task of handling our emerging supranational culture. While it's still small, it's growing, but our state-centric legal systems are producing children who have no nationality and people discovering they owe thousands of dollars in taxes to countries they've never lived or worked in. Currently the laws in this area are very much hit or miss and I would love to see the world's governments come together and try to address this issue. With an estimated 200 million people living in countries other than the ones they were born in, it's getting harder and harder to ignore this problem.


  1. Good post. This is one a lot of folks don't think about before they install themselves in another country. There is a body of international law (called private international law) that does deal with this. The one most cited in custody cases is called Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In almost all cases a spouse cannot remove a child from any country that is a signatory to this where the child is under 16 and is a "habitual resident" of that state without the other spouse's (or ex-spouse's) permission. There are a few exceptions to this like extreme forms of child abuse (not spousal abuse) if it can be proven to the satisfaction of a court of law. I'm still thinking about this (am writing a post about it) because it does have some interesting collateral damage. There are migrants living in a host country not because they are happy (some, in fact are deeply unhappy) but because they are unwilling to leave behind minor children. For American citizens abroad the State department will not issue a U.S. passport to a minor child without the explicit consent of the other spouse. This means that American children born or living abroad to dual citizen parents can only enter the U.S. if the citizen spouse gives his or her permission. The intent of all this is entirely understandable but the reality is that this gives the citizen spouse a certain amount of power over the non-citizen spouse. This can lead to some very gut-wrenching catastrophes. I'm giving the post a lot of thought before I publish. There are good reasons for these laws. Today I'm not concerned because all my children are over 16 but I do remember how I felt about it when they were younger. Enormous resentment and anger toward my French husband every time the Frenchling's U.S. passports came up for renewal. The power was all his and nothing could make me feel good about that.

  2. Stumbled upon this...really good information. Perhaps someone knows the answer to my question. My ex-wife (Dutch) coerced me into giving her possession in our divorce of our minor daughter's American passport. I'm American. I've already stated our daughter will grow up in the Netherlands. I'm now moving to another country and want possession of my daughter's US passport. Is it legal for a Dutch court to rule on the custodial possession of an American passport?

    1. I am not a lawyer and I don't know. However, I will say that the passport, as I understand it, does not belong to either you or your wife. It is the property of the US government and it seems odd that a Dutch court would make a ruling regarding US government property. I would contact your consulate immediately.