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Diplomacy in Action

50. Remarks by Mary Helen Carlson, Office of Private International Law, before the Hague Conference Special Commission on Maintenance (May 2003)


U.S. Opening Statement
Hague Conference Special Commission on Maintenance
May 2003

The United States is pleased to be taking part in this very worthwhile effort to develop a modern, global convention for the reciprocal enforcement of child support obligations. The number of child support cases involving the custodial parent and child living in a different country than the non-custodial parent is certain to increase as the global economy continues to expand. It is vitally important for the protection of children and families that we develop improved mechanisms for international cooperation in this area. We believe that the new instrument needs to be practical and flexible. For us, the goal of this effort is to develop a system for international child support cases that is predictable, efficient, affordable, swift, and consistent.
The United States is not a party to any of the existing multilateral maintenance conventions. Those conventions have worked reasonably well for a number of countries and they contain many useful provisions. Some of them, however, contain mandatory rules of jurisdiction that pose insurmountable constitutional problems for us. In addition, and as noted by many others, the multilaterals have become outmoded and do not adequately address the needs of the 21st century. The United States has, instead, entered into bilateral child support arrangements with a number of countries. The federal government has broad statutory authority to conclude such bilateral arrangements, which do not require further congressional approval. Like the multilateral conventions, our bilateral arrangements have their strengths and weaknesses. In order to gain support within the United States for this new convention, we will need to demonstrate that it will produce more reliable support for children than our existing bilateral approach. We are committed to work together with other countries to produce an instrument that accomplishes this result.

It will also be essential to U.S. adherence to the new instrument that it not be used to facilitate recovery of maintenance from a U .S. non-custodial parent in circumstances where the child has been wrongfully removed or retained. The instrument should not disturb national law, whatever it may be, regarding enforcement of maintenance obligations in those circumstances.

The United States will be guided in these discussions by two underlying principles, one philosophical and the other practical.

The central philosophical issue for us is this: children must be able to Rely on their parents, and parents must live up to their Responsibility to their children. There is no substitute, in our view, for this reliance and this responsibility. That's the lesson we learned in our welfare program. Government subsidies, for housing, child-care, food, cash, etc., are no substitute for the kind of income security for which children ought to be able to depend on their parents. Parents should be able to and should be expected to work, to earn, and to use their income to live up to their responsibility to their children. The question we will be asking ourselves as we consider proposals for the new convention is: Does it present or remove obstacles from children being able to rely on support from their parents and parents meeting their responsibilities to their children?

Now, the practical principle that will be our guide is this: How likely is it that the new instrument will produce better Results, Outcomes, and Performance. While it is of course essential that the new instrument provide a clear legal basis for the enforcement of support obligations, that is only part of our task. We also need to ensure that the new instrument augments this legal framework with provisions that will foster full and complete implementation of the convention's obligations by states parties. One of the lessons learned from the abduction convention and from the existing maintenance conventions is the crucial importance of such implementation mechanisms. Provisions dealing with responsibilities of central authorities, administrative cooperation, accountibility, training, data collection, reports by parties concerning their practice under the convention -- all of these are the types of things that can help insure that, at the end of the day, the convention produces results in the form of more reliable support for more children. A flexible legal framework that can be accepted by all countries and a strong web of implementation provisions -- both of these, plus each party's commitment, according to its ability, of sufficient resources, are necessary for a successful convention.

In sum, what we will be working for in this new convention are: more Reliable support for more children, Responsibility of parents to support their children, and Commitment to actual Results. We are eager to work with other countries towards these goals.

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