Return of children abducted to or in Lebanon
- There are extreme difficulties in returning a child to the United States from Lebanon when retained by a Lebanese parent.
- Lebanon is not a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
- There are no extradition treaties between Lebanon and the United States.
- Under Lebanese law, Lebanese nationals may prevent their wives and children (even if they are American citizens) from leaving Lebanon.
- Lebanon does not recognize international parental kidnapping as a crime.
- Issues of child custody and divorce in Lebanon are generally decided in religious courts under religious law. Thus, if the father is a Sunni Muslim and the mother is a Christian the custody of their children will normally be decided by a Sunni Muslim court.
- One might petition a civil court to handle a custody case instead of a religious court. The issue would be whether the religious court has jurisdiction. It could take up to two years to have the civil court assume jurisdiction and a minimum of four to five years to have the case decided.
- Among Sunni Muslims, the father has physical custody of a daughter over the age of nine and of a boy over the age of seven. For Shia Muslims the father generally has physical custody at for boys at age 2 and for girls at age 7.
- If a father establishes that the mother is unfit or lacking good moral character, she will lose any right to the child. Muslim law requires a child to be raised in the Muslim faith, and if it were proven that a mother tried to raise the child as a Christian, she could be found unfit.
- Lebanon does not recognize dual nationality. American/Lebanese dual nationals who carry Lebanese papers will be treated as Lebanese nationals by security authorities.
- A child who is a dual American and Lebanese citizen would be bound by Lebanese law in the eyes of the Lebanese civil courts.
- The U.S. State Department cannot offer any real assistance even if there were a United States court order directing the return of the child from Lebanon.
Personal status disputes in Lebanon are decided through religious courts and often favor the side of fathers.
The judiciary does not consider international parental kidnapping as a crime and it is permitted to prevent family members from leaving the country, even if they hold dual nationality.
A clutch of Western countries already alert foreigners to the risk of child abduction in Lebanon.
“Lebanese family law is very different from U.K. law and particular caution is needed if child custody is [or becomes] an issue,” Britain’s Lebanon travel advice states.
Australia’s Foreign Office warns dual nationality parents it is powerless to intervene in abduction cases committed in Lebanon.
“Australians [including mothers with children] have been prevented from leaving Lebanon when relatives have legally placed border alerts [known as ‘stop orders’] on them,” it says. “The Australian Government cannot prevent or overturn the issue of a ‘stop order’ on an Australian citizen.”
With a large expatriate population in Lebanon, Australia is no stranger to the idea of child abduction involving Lebanese victims.
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