Mother's and Child's Moving Back from Saudi Arabia, and Child Custody:

An interesting trial court opinion I just ran across, though it was decided in May 2006. [UPDATE: Link fixed.] It doesn't break any new legal ground, but it does provide an interesting perspective, I think, on a particular kind of problem, and how some courts approach it. From the facts:

1. Plaintiff is C__ C. Al-R__, an adult citizen of Pennsylvania and the United States of America, residing in Millville, Columbia County, Pennsylvania.

2. Defendant is F__ S. Al-R__, an adult citizen of Saudi Arabia residing in Tabouk, Saudi Arabia.

3. The parties met while they were students at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff graduated from the University of Scranton with a Bachelor of Science degree in May of 2000 and received a Master of Science in School Counseling degree in May 2003.

4. The parties were married on August 28, 2001, in Honesdale, Wayne County, Pennsylvania, in an Islamic ceremony. She had converted to Islam by accepting the five basic precepts of the Islamic religion prior to the marriage. She never converted to "cultural" Islam as it is observed in Saudi Arabia.

5. While living in Pennsylvania, plaintiff became pregnant with the parties' child. Defendant wanted to move to Saudi Arabia to live and raise the child. Plaintiff was reluctant but agreed to relocate on a trial basis. She did some superficial research on what life would be like for her and her family in Saudi Arabia. Defendant did not fully disclose to her what life was like for women in Saudi Arabian culture, although he fully knew or should have fully known the difference since he had lived in both cultures for significant periods of time. Plaintiff had never lived in the Saudi culture.

6. Defendant knew that plaintiff was a strong-willed woman who would have a difficult time adapting to a controlling Saudi male dominated culture....

As I understand it, the purely legal issue is whether the wife lived with the daughter in Pennsylvania starting August 31, or was simply visiting there, for at least a couple of weeks. But the answer, according to the court, seems to turn quite substantially on the nature of the problems that the wife was facing in Saudi Arabia, and on the husband's responsibility for the problems — apparently since that bears on the legally significant question of whether the mother intended to establish residency in Pennsylvania, and perhaps whether the father should have recognized that intent. (Note the finding that "When plaintiff did not return to Saudi Arabia in August 2005, defendant knew or should have known that she would not return.")

Likewise, the court's conclusion that the plaintiff didn't engage in "unjustifiable conduct" (which would have statutorily stripped the court of jurisdiction) seems influenced by the situation the wife faced in Saudi Arabia, and the husband's possible responsibility for that situation. In any case, you can read the whole opinion for more on this.