This site tracks developments in international family law from Richard Crouch and John Crouch of Crouch & Crouch in Arlington, Virginia. Our international practice has grown naturally from our location in our native Arlington, where our clients include many military, diplomatic and immigrant families, international organization employees, IT professionals, etc. This blog's purpose is to comment on the ongoing development of the law, and help other lawyers, journalists and the public understand individual cases. These postings do not provide a comprehensive description of the law. In fact, they will surely contain statements that were true at the time but have become less valid as the law continues to develop.
Everything in this Wall Street Journal article, posted on LinkedIn by the consummate family lawyer, Betty Sandler (Vanity Plate: "SCOURGE"), matches what my father Richard Crouch and I have observed in our combined 60+ years of practicing international family law. Over half our cases are international in some substantial way.
Expat scholar Yvonne McNulty, an associate faculty member at SIM University in Singapore, found in her study, “Till Stress Do Us Part: The Causes and Consequences of Expatriate Divorce,” to be published in June in the Journal of Global Mobility, that expat life brings its own form of marriage stressors. Dr. McNulty studied 38 expat divorces in 27 countries and found a range of issues: trailing spouses who may find themselves with a loss of identity after a move; a lack of a longtime community that might bolster a struggling couple; and long work hours mixed in with extensive travel that pulls couples apart."... When couples do break up the results are far more serious, she says, with international battles over child custody, confusion over which country has jurisdiction over the divorce, and huge relocation costs for companies that have sent entire families overseas.
One element that can intensify problems, she says, is the expat community itself, which can “become almost like a toxic influence on a marriage.”
“It’s like a groupthink attitude. If one or two individuals are engaging in extramarital affairs the men tend to say, that gives me permission to do it.” Some common expat destinations, particularly Asia and the Middle East, are “notorious for changing a marriage,” Dr. McNulty says.
Another problem is social isolation. Most expat couples are far removed from any kind of setting – family, friends, communities – that might have bolstered a struggling marriage. Dr. McNulty says that in her research, “one of the strongest things that came out was the lack of role models or mentors” for troubled marriages. Many of the women she surveyed said to her, “If we had been home, my parents, his parents, his brother would have pulled him up by the scruff of his neck and said, ‘What are you doing?’”
In addition, the expat community is not always willing to get involved. “When you’ve got marital problems, the other expat wives think you have a disease, and they shun you,” Dr. McNulty says.
Fairfax, Va. lawyer Olivier Long's essay on the recent Gudino case, and the opinion itself, provide a fascinating look into how American courts decide custody cases, and review them on appeal. These loud, violent, mentally disturbed parents faced off in court and the father came off looking better. The best of many choice quotations is probably one from one of the children: "whereas she felt like she lived with 18 screaming monkeys at her mother’s house, at father’s 'we are just three screaming monkeys.'”
A California Court of Appeal made some important points about the boudaries between custody cases and hague convention cases, and construed the "Grave Risk of Harm" defense narrowly, in Forrest-Benavides v. Eaddy, ___ P.3d ___, ___ Cal. App. ___, 33 FLR 1039 (11/17/06), as it reversed a modifying decision by the California court that had made the original custody order.