JORDAN AND CHILD ABDUCTION
Note: The information contained in this flyer is intended as an introduction to the basic elements of children’s issues in Jordan. It is not intended as a legal reference. Currently there are no international or bilateral treaties in force between Jordan and the United States dealing with international parental child abduction. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction cannot be invoked if a child is taken from the United States to Jordan, or vice versa, by one parent against the wishes of the other parent or in violation of a U.S. custody order.
Jordanian laws regarding divorce and custody of minor children are adjudicated in religious courts. If the marriage partners are Muslim, disputes will be resolved before a Sharia court judge who will apply principles of Islamic law. In the case of Christians, the court will be an Ecclesiastical Court composed of clergymen from the appropriate religious community. For Christians, the law will be derived from principles governing family status in the Greek Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church or other Christian denominations.
Child Custody Law
In both theory and practice, Muslim and Christian courts in Jordan differ very little in how they resolve disputes over the custody of children of divorced or separated parents. The relevant laws all give priority for custodianship to the mother as long as certain restrictive conditions are met. In Muslim courts, this right of custody extends to the natural mother until the children reach 18 years of age. In cases where custody of small children is granted to a woman other than the mother, custody reverts to the father when a boy reaches age nine and a girl reaches age eleven. Christian courts will generally award custody to the mother until the children come of age.
In actual practice, the conditions placed on the mother’s primary right to custody often enable the father to maintain a great deal of influence on the rearing of the children even though he may not have legal custody. For example, travel restrictions exist in Jordan. The mother must seek the fathers approval to travel with the children. Frequently, he is actually able to assume legal custody against the wishes of the mother, when she is unable or unwilling to meet the conditions set by law for her to maintain her right to custody of the children.
A mother can lose her primary right to custody of a child in a number of ways. The court can determine that she is incapable of safeguarding the child or of bringing the child up in accordance with the appropriate religious standards. The mother can void her right to custody by re-marrying or by residing in a home with people that might be “strangers” to the child. The mother may not deny visitation rights to the father or the paternal grandfather and may not travel outside Jordan with the child without their approval and the approval of the court. In general, a Jordanian man divorcing his non-Jordanian wife will be awarded legal custody of their children by showing that any of the above conditions may not be met to the satisfaction of the court.
Right of Visitation
In cases where the father has custody of a child, the mother is guaranteed visitation rights. It has been the experience of the Embassy in Amman that the father and the paternal grandparents of the child are generally very open and accommodating in facilitating the right of the mother to visit and maintain contact with the child.
Enforcement of Foreign Orders
Custody orders and judgments of foreign courts are not enforceable in Jordan if they potentially contradict or violate local laws and practices. For example, an order from a U.S. court granting custody to an American mother will not be honored in Jordan if the mother intends to take the child to the United States and live outside of Jordan. Nor will Jordanian courts enforce a U.S. court decree ordering a parent in Jordan to pay for child support since Jordanian law states that the parent with custody is responsible for providing financial support for the child.
Parental Child Abduction
Child abduction is a serious offense in Jordan. Any person, including a parent, who abducts a child in order to deprive the legal guardian of custody, or to unlawfully obtain custody and remove a child from Jordan, faces a prison sentence of three months to three years and a fine. A mother may also face serious legal difficulties if she attempts to take her children out of Jordan without the permission of the father. Border officials may ask to see such permission in writing before allowing children to exit.
Final Note: American citizens who travel to Jordan place themselves under the jurisdiction of Jordanian courts. If a Jordanian parent chooses to remain in Jordan or leave a child behind in Jordan, the U.S. Embassy cannot force either the parent or the Jordanian Government to return the child to the United States, nor is it possible in most cases to extradite a Jordanian parent to the United States for parental child abduction. American citizens planning a trip to Jordan with dual national children should bear this in mind.