Over the last few weeks, the contentious (and seemingly sudden) breakup between American pop star Joe Jonas and British actress Sophie Turner has made headlines almost daily—and rapidly escalated into a complex and closely watched custody battle.
On September 6th, after seven years together (four married) and the birth of two daughters, the Jonas Brothers singer, and Game of Thrones star issued a “Statement from the two of us” announcing their split:
“After four wonderful years of marriage, we have mutually decided to amicably end our marriage. There are many speculative narratives as to why but, truly this is a united decision and we sincerely hope that everyone can respect our wishes for privacy for us and our children,” they shared on social media.
Fans were shocked, as the pair had seemed happy in recent public appearances. But, following a mid-August dispute, Jonas filed for divorce in Florida around September 1st, saying their marriage was “irretrievably broken.” Turner claims she learned of it on September 5th.
Just two weeks later, Turner sued Jonas for the return of their young daughters to England—where, she contends, they had made their permanent home.
In court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern New York, Turner says the girls—Willa, 3, and Delphine, 14 months, who have dual citizenship—were being wrongfully kept in New York City, away from their “habitual residence” in England, where they are “are both fully involved and integrated in all aspects of daily and cultural life in England.” The petition says Jonas’ divorce filing incorrectly claimed that their children resided in Florida for the six months prior. Turner’s lawsuit also alleged that Jonas refused to turn over the children’s passports.
According to NBC News, the filing claims the couple moved into a long-term rental in England last spring, entered contracts to purchase a home in July, and planned to move there in December. As further evidence of their intention, Turner supplied a heartfelt note written by Jonas to the seller, which read, “We can envision our children growing up here and making this our forever home.”
Things took a turn over the summer when the family was apart for work, juggling travel and parenting. While Turner filmed a new drama series in the U.K., the children traveled on the Jonas Brothers U.S. tour with their dad. Turner’s petition says they planned for the girls to be with Jonas until Turner finished shooting; in mid-September, she would travel to New York, collect the kids, and take them to England.
But then Jonas filed for divorce.
Turner filed her petition a day after the couple met to discuss their separation. Her filing says that when she reiterated her plan to take their daughters to England, Jonas refused to hand over their passports, which she contends is “a breach of the Mother’s rights of custody under English law, England being the children’s habitual residence.” According to court documents, Turner says she “never consented or acquiesced to the removal of the children from England.” She filed her application for their return with the Central Authority for England and Wales.
Turner filed her petition through the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This international treaty, adopted by many countries, including the United States, is intended “to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence, as well as to secure protection for rights of access.”
Turner’s use of the clause is noteworthy because, historically, it has primarily been enforced against mothers. In 2015 (most recent available data), nearly three-quarters of cases involved mothers who took their children to another country.
Jonas has strongly objected to Turner’s use of “abduction” in her petition, calling it “misleading at best, and a serious abuse of the legal system at worst.” He argues that Turner is trying to move divorce proceedings to the U.K. and the children permanently to England. Jonas contends that “Florida is the appropriate jurisdiction for the case.” (The couple had moved to Miami after selling their LA home in 2021).
Through a spokesperson, Jonas provided a statement to NBC, saying, “His only concern is the well-being of his children,” and he hopes Turner will “reconsider her harsh legal position and move forward in a more constructive and private manner.”
Jonas’ account of the split differs quite dramatically from Turner’s. He disputes her account that his divorce filing was a surprise and says Turner was aware that the Florida court where he filed for divorce “restricts both parents from relocating the children.”
According to Jonas, he believed they’d had a cordial and productive meeting and agreed to work toward an amicable co-parenting arrangement. While Jonas says he is “okay with the kids being raised both in the U.S. and the U.K.,” his statement argues that if he complied with the demands Turner made 24 hours after their meeting, he would “be in violation of the Florida Court order.”
Last week, the pair reached a temporary child custody agreement to keep the kids in New York.
International custody cases on the rise
This celebrity custody battle may seem to involve Game of Thrones-scale maneuvers, but such scenarios are increasingly common in our globalized society.
While the Hague Convention “provides a framework for countries to work together in specific ways to resolve international abduction cases” (U.S. Dept of State), it does not determine who should have custody. Further, the Convention does not apply in countries that are not signatories and in several other circumstances.
Custody disputes and co-parenting arrangements are extremely thorny when the ex-spouses come from different countries and/or children have dual citizenship. It is challenging to determine jurisdiction, and laws vary significantly between jurisdictions. Practically, actual shared custody can become nearly impossible across international lines. As always, the child’s best interests must be the chief determining factor.
The stakes are high if you are involved in an international custody case. Whether you are a parent who wishes to leave the country with your child or fears someone will wrongfully move your child, working with an attorney knowledgeable and experienced in these issues is crucial.
Every case is unique. The trusted family attorneys at SFLG are skilled in all areas of custody law and can help you navigate the particular circumstances of your international custody dispute.
By Debra Schoenberg