Temporary Child Custody: Sweden to the United States
June 8, 2016 7:25 AM   Subscribe

My Sister-in-Law (SIL) wants to get temporary custody of her niece, who lives in Sweden. The child's parents want this to happen too. How does she start?

My Sister-in-Law (SIL) was born a Palestinian refuge in Lebanon. She is currently a US Citizen. Her brother now has Swedish citizenship.

Currently, my SIL's brother and his wife are both very ill. The Swedish government is talking about taking their daughter and placing her in group home, until such time as the parents are able to care for her. Her parents want her to come to the United States. My brother and SIL are willing to take her in. She is 8yrs old. She is a Swedish citizen.

My SIL does not really have the money to hire a lawyer. Her brother wants her to take his daughter while he recovers. If her brother and his wife were to die, her brother wants my SIL to care for his daughter. The recovery period of her parents is an indefinite time period. It may well end up being permanent.

Can temporary custody be arranged without lawyers? Is there going to be an immigration issue trying to get my SIL's niece entry into the US?

How should she begin trying to do this? I know this is a legal question, and the standard answer on AskMefi to this type of question is: hire a lawyer. But in this case, that is not a helpful answer.

Any information or thoughts are greatly appreciated.
posted by Flood to Law & Government (13 answers total)
Legal Aid? GoFundMe? Call around and beg for pro bono work or offer to pay it off in baked goods? I can think of a dozen things that might go wrong for the niece and your sister-in-law right now, in the immediate future, and in the long term; and that's just off the top of my head. She has to get a lawyer, whether for herself or for the child.
posted by Etrigan at 7:32 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thing is, if you all don't have money for a lawyer now, you're not going to have money for a lawyer when someone's looking at deportation, extradition or kidnapping charges. There is no Nolo Press book for DIY temporary international niece adoption.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:33 AM on June 8, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'd start by calling the local Swedish court and asking what the procedure is for granting temporary custody.
posted by amtho at 7:46 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can't she start with a visit? Get her to the US asap, then work on the more permanent solution without the threat of state care? Does your sister in law have the same surname as her niece? That always helps.

This is not an uncommon scenario. Tibetans do this a lot. They use refugee advisory services which are generally free. Do the swedes have such a thing? I bet they're better than many countries.

The borders are different, but I flew from Germany to England alone as a child and stayed with a family friend and went to school there. Nobody asked if we had legal papers. Admittedly this was a long time ago though. But I'd start with a visitors visa as it's a crisis.
posted by taff at 7:50 AM on June 8, 2016

They have to, have to, have to, get a lawyer. It is just not optional. Otherwise, if, God forbid, the brother and the wife both die, that kid is very likely going to end up in Swedish foster care for an extended period. You cannot be deathly ill, have dependents, and not have a will. Not if you have any resources available at all.

A child traveling without both parents will very likely draw scrutiny at the U.S. border. Technically a letter of permission is not mandatory to enter the U.S., but you don't want to be sitting in some windowless little room while CBP tries to get in touch with the girl's parents.
posted by praemunire at 8:37 AM on June 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

The Swedish agencies have attorneys on staff, they just need some prompting that this is a viable option. Ask them to appoint an attorney for the child, or work with refugee services. Get your contact info in order, such as Skype account so the connections can be made and write a compelling letter for your family member to share.

In the states, a family placement would be preferred to foster care, but there will be some discussion of travel logistics.

Unaccompanied minors do get some scrutiny on flights, however, our experience over 10 years was that people were at a minimum professional & decent, and were often warm, while getting the work done. Don't let that deter you.

Good luck!
posted by childofTethys at 9:35 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do not, under any circumstances, consider any advice that tells you to have the child in the U.S. illegally (overstaying a tourist visa, etc.). That triggers all kinds of automatic legal repercussions (including possibly sanctions on future reentry to the U.S.) that you do not want. There really is no way to do this without a lawyer.
posted by katyggls at 11:02 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Can the brother help with the cost of the lawyer? Or other family? This seems like an "everybody pulls together for the family" kind of situation, as long as the family involved isn't toxic (if they are, my apologies, and never mind).
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:11 AM on June 8, 2016

There should be free legal assistance for this in Sweden. They have a service where people with few means have a right to legal help. Also: when you are very ill, you don't only get health-care, but also social services, including social advice. Is there a language problem? Because this should not be difficult or expensive at all.
They also have the right to a translator to help them.
posted by mumimor at 11:18 AM on June 8, 2016

Here's a link to some pro bono refugee resources in Sweden. There are two law-related resources that might be able to point the child's parents in the right direction. There is no guarantee that the Swedish legal system will agree that it's in the best interest of the child to be sent abroad. (I agree but I'm not Sweden.) Your sister in law may want to contact the American embassy in Sweden for advice but it's Swedish law first and then US law that determines if this guardianship is even possible. Find friendly Palestinian folks in both Sweden and the US who want to help make this happen legally, that's my advice. Good luck to all!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:15 PM on June 8, 2016

The child, and lthe parents too, have rights under the ECHR to legal assistance from the Swedish state. They should be able to get a lawyer at a very low charge or for free in Sweden.

The refugee resource centres mentioned by Bella Donna should be able to help point the parents in the right direction. If the parents are too unwell to initiate contact with refugee resources or legal advisers on their own, find someone in Sweden who can assist them.

If the plan proceeds, and the child is to move either temporarily or permanently to the U.S., you will likely need a lawyer there too. But, start with a Swedish lawyer because (a) it's free and (b) that's where the child is.

Speed is important too. If the parents are still well enough to exercise their rights as guardians, they can still make decisions concerning their child (within reason). If their health deteriorates, or one or both of them die, before a real plan is in place, the Swedish State/Social Services will most likely end up making the decisions. If there is a proposal to take the child into care/a group home, things are probably already moving out of the parent's control, and the parents may already be in a position where Social Services will be seeking an input into their decisions concerning their daughter. That's another good reason a Swedish lawyer is needed asap.

[IANA Swedish L]
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:48 PM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is pro bono help, here in the USA, for immigration and for kinship care processes (which this seems to resemble). This particular case might be a bit unusual for the kinship care side but I'm sure they'd help if they could. LawHelp.org is a decent starting place for looking for legal help.

This is definitely a case where it is in everybody's best interests, and especially the child's, to be on the right side of the law and get the paperwork right on the first time. A summer visit is one thing. An immigration situation is another. People who do this kind of thing informally, or independently without lawyers, are not also dealing with immigration issues. There is definitely an immigration issue here.

Legal advice on both sides make sense. Any paperwork prepared in Sweden would need to respond to both Swedish and American legal requirements.

Where to start? I think look for what seems like a responsive and well resourced legal services organization near your sister in law that either works with immigration or with kinship adoption, and hope that they can help direct you for the help on the other side of the coin. Here in NYC, I would direct you to NYLAG (which has the advantage of also having in house family law services) or CUNY Citizenship Now. Possibly they could help you find something more local to your sister in law, if you are running into dead ends.

Good luck!!
posted by Salamandrous at 4:32 PM on June 8, 2016

Is it possible for your sister-in-law to travel to Sweden? Speaking from experience as a health care professional, family members who are physically present are sometimes incorporated into care plans more thoroughly than those who are distant, particularly overseas distant. If your SIL can show up at her brother's bedside, perhaps the option of the niece going to stay with her will appear more feasible to the social service folks in Sweden. Or, if the brother and his wife are too unwell to make the legal arrangements in Sweden, your SIL might be able to work with them to do that.

This would also clear up the issue of a child traveling alone. And thinking about the 8 year old's experience, it would probably be a lot more comfortable to have your aunt visit, interact with your father, and then take you home with her, versus you leaving alone to go to a relative you don't know well (or even potentially a stranger?) There could be a big psychological benefit for the child in your SIL's presence in Sweden before this move.

I have no legal, immigration, social service, or Swedish background; this is just an idea.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:47 AM on June 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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