Which court will decide on the custody of children in international families?

How is it possible to participate in proceedings abroad?

Only the so-called internationally competent court can rule on parents' applications for modification of their child.

This question falls under private international (family) law. The generally applicable rule for all countries does not exist, so we recommend that you refer your case to our Office or a legal representative.

The place of jurisdiction, i.e., where the child custody proceedings will be held, can significantly impact the further arrangement of the family relationships. Most often, the court that has jurisdiction is the court closest to the child, as it can have up-to-date information about the child. Therefore, as a rule, this will be the court in whose district the child is habitually resident.

What is habitual residence? It is the place where the child:
  • has a de facto long-term residence,
  • has a residence agreed upon by both parents,
  • has established social ties,
  • has medical care,
  • is educated,
  • or leisure activities.

Please note that the child's citizenship or declared permanent residence is not the main determining factor in the criteria. It is, therefore, not true that Czech courts can always decide on Czech children.

The fundamental legal regulation of the international jurisdiction of courts (binding on the Czech Republic) is contained in:

  • Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of the jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, and repealing regulation (EC) No 1347/2000 (Brussels IIbis Regulation)
  • Council Regulation (EC) No 4/2009 of 18 December 2008 on the jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition, and enforcement of decisions, and cooperation in matters relating to maintenance obligations (Regulation on Maintenance)
  • The Hague Convention on the jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition, enforcement, and cooperation in matters relating to maintenance obligations on parental responsibility and measures for the protection of children of 19 October 1996 (the Hague Convention on Convention of 1996)
  • bilateral international treaties
  • Act No. 91/2012 Coll. on Private International Law.

The court and the fact that the proceedings will be "international" may also affect the law under which the situation will be judged. Most often, the court will apply "its law" (the Czech court will assess the rights and obligations according to Czech law, the French court will judge according to French law, etc.). Still, there are situations where more than one law will influence the decision. You can consult your lawyers and the Office's staff on this issue.

How to give legal effect to a foreign judgment in the Czech Republic?

Court judgments are not automatically applicable in the territory of another country. They may not have any effect as if they did not exist. However, there are ways to bind a foreign judgment in another state. This is the so-called recognition of a foreign decision (often referred to as registration).

The conditions for recognizing judgments are in international treaties (multilateral, bilateral) and Act No. 91/2012 Coll. on Private International Law. Therefore, it is impossible to be summarised in general terms. According to the degree of cooperation between states, the following regimes of recognition of foreign judgments can be distinguished decisions:

  • automatic recognition without the need for a particular procedure
  • a separate judgment must decide recognition
  • the conditions for recognition of a foreign judgment are lacking, and an application for a foreign judgment would probably be rejected.

This is a very complex topic, so we recommend you contact our Office or an attorney to check the possibility of recognizing a foreign judgment in the Czech Republic or vice versa.

How can I participate in proceedings abroad?

We deal with many parents in situations where judgment is given abroad. Still, the parent lives in the Czech Republic. Being a party to proceedings before foreign courts can be complicated and costly, depending on the type of proceedings involved.

In practice, we can recommend that a parent who lives in a different state than where the court proceedings are being held involving the children:
  • inform the court of their correct address for service of process (or, where appropriate, grant full power of attorney for service on a relative in the state where the court proceedings are pending - service abroad is time-consuming and often unworkable)
  • be procedurally active - seek to find out the details of the proceedings and make timely submissions on the subject matter of the proceedings (at least in writing)
  • try to attend the court hearing (in person or arrange for legal representation)
  • find out about the possibilities of securing free legal aid (usually without difficulty in Western countries) and of securing a court interpreter abroad
  • try to resolve the matter amicably (with the help of the Office or another institution)
  • find out the possibilities of participating in the proceedings remotely or ask the foreign court to arrange their participation by telephone or video conference call.

Our staff can relay their experiences and those of other clients regarding how the proceedings abroad were conducted.

You can contact us to check if we have such information. The Office will also inform you about the possibilities of cooperation with central authorities abroad.

The Office cannot represent Czech citizens before other countries' courts, nor are we authorized to comment on proceedings abroad. Clients and the Office often contact Czech embassies abroad (consulates, embassies) and ask for their assistance. You can find the contacts for the embassies at www.mzv.cz.