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

Active-duty U.S. military members and their accompanying non-active duty dependents are subject to the foreign country’s laws while residing overseas. Civil issues, including family law matters, generally fall under the jurisdiction of the host country’s courts. 

The country where a U.S. military family is living may be considered the family’s habitual residence in certain legal matters. The NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in place between the United States and NATO countries allows the host country to determine whether 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 like custody and adoption.  

Abducted children may be ordered returned to their country of habitual residence in international parental child abduction cases governed by the Hague Abduction Convention. This may be the foreign country where the base is located, and that country's courts could determine the custody matters.  

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs works with Judge Advocate General (JAG) offices in the military. JAG officers may be able to offer general guidance and information about custody, adoption, and international parental child abduction. Please visit the following pages for more information: