U.S. Military Service Members Assigned Abroad - Information on Habitual Residence for Children and Spouses
DISCLAIMER: The information in this flyer is provided for general information only is not intended to be legal advice, and may change without notice. Questions involving interpretation of law should be addressed to an attorney licensed in the relevant jurisdiction
While residing overseas, active-duty U.S. military members and their accompanying non-active duty dependents are subject to the foreign country’s laws even if they are U.S. citizens or if they have a legal residence in the United States. U.S. military families are often surprised to learn that, even while living on a U.S. military base in a foreign country, their civil issues, including family law matters, will generally fall under the jurisdiction of the host country’s courts, not U.S. courts.
In addition, the country where a U.S. military family is living may be considered the family’s habitual residence in certain legal matters. In fact, the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in place between the United States and NATO countries where U.S. military service members and their dependents are assigned allows the host country to determine that U.S. military service members and their dependents are habitually resident in the host country and subject to local laws and procedures. Each non-NATO country that hosts U.S. military personnel has its own SOFA with the United States that governs these matters.
Habitual residence may determine which country’s courts should be used to resolve a legal dispute, particularly in family law matters such as custody and adoption, and in determining whether an intercountry adoption falls under the Hague Adoption Convention. In international parental child abduction cases governed by the Hague Abduction Convention, abducted children are, in most cases, supposed to be ordered returned to their country of habitual residence, which may be the foreign country where the base is located, so that that country’s courts can determine the custody matters.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs works closely with Judge Advocate General (JAG) offices in every branch of the U.S. military to provide service members with information that they might need when residing outside the United States. Although JAG officers do not provide legal services to U.S. military members and their families in civil cases, JAG officers may be able to offer general guidance and information. For additional information on Bureau of Consular Affairs services and assistance, please visit the Department of State’s travel website, which includes information on residing abroad, international parental child abduction, and intercountry adoptions.
Office of Children's Issues at the U.S. Department of State
Country officers are available to speak with you Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. For assistance with an abduction in progress or any emergency situation that occurs after normal business hours, on weekends, or federal holidays, please call toll free at 1-888-407-4747. See all contact information.