What family lawyers make of Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’s child custody battle

Divorce lawyers have weighed in on the ongoing divorce between Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner and pop singer Joe Jonas, after Turner sued her ex-husband to return their two young children to England from the US.

In documents obtained by The Independent, a petition filed Thursday 21 September in the southern district of New York claimed that the former couple’s daughters have been wrongfully retained in New York City from “their habitual residence” in the United Kingdom by their father.

The documents state that the former couple had made England their permanent residence in April 2023 and had been planning to buy their “forever home” in England in December.

The filing states that the Jonas Brothers singer and the Game of Thrones star moved into a rental in May 2023 with a plan to move into a permanent home in December 2023.

But amid relationship tensions complicated by travel arrangements over the summer, they reportedly decided that their daughters would instead travel with Jonas on his band’s US Tour, which began in July, while Turner began filming a new ITVX drama series in the UK in May.

However, before Turner’s filming had wrapped, Jonas ultimately filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in Miami Dade County, Florida, on 1 September. The filing states that Turner allegedly learnt about the divorce filing through the media, when it was reported on 5 September.

After Jonas filed for divorce, the pair reportedly met on 17 September to discuss their separation and Turner reiterated their agreement for their daughters to return to England. However, the petition claims that Jonas was in possession of their passports and “refused to hand them over” to Turner, which is why she is now suing.

The filing reads: “On or about September 17, 2023, the parties met to discuss their separation. The Mother reiterated the parties’ agreed plan for the children to return home to England that week. The Father has possession of the children’s passports. He refuses to return the passports to the Mother and refuses to send the children home to England with the Mother.

In the filing, Turner has requested the petition for the return of the children to England to be granted and that the “Father be ordered to pay the Mother’s reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees and expenses”.

It states: “Based on the Father’s express statements that he will not return the children to England and will not return the children’s passports to the Mother, on September 20, 2023, the Mother has submitted her Hague Convention Application for Return to the Central Authority for England & Wales seeking the return of the children to England.”

Deborah Jeff, Head of Family Law and children law at London law firm Simkins tells The Independent that the new filing is a “strategic step” on Turner’s part.

“The Hague Convention is a blunt instrument, and children are usually automatically returned to the country where they are habitually resident if an allegation of wrongful retention is made,” Jeff explains.

“Assuming Sophie and Joe’s children return to England, a family court judge will then apply a welfare checklist to determine their long-term residence and, crucially, the arrangements for maintaining a relationship with Joe.”

Jeff adds that families with dual-citizenships often find themselves in legal proceedings when a divorce occurs.

“The sad truth is that, for an international family, proceedings such as these are all too common when a relationship breaks down,” Jeff explains.

In a statement to The Independent, a representative for Jonas stated that – following the singer’s divorce filing in Florida – the Florida Court has already entered an order that restricts both parents from relocating their children. Turner was allegedly served with this order on 6 September.

“Joe and Sophie had a cordial meeting this past Sunday in New York, when Sophie came to New York to be with the kids. They have been with her since that meeting,” said Jonas’s rep via email.

“Joe’s impression of the meeting was that they had reached an understanding that they would work together towards an amicable co-parenting setup. Less than 24 hours later, Sophie advised that she wanted to take the children permanently to the UK.

“She demanded via this filing that Joe hand over the children’s passports so that she could take them out of the country immediately. If he complies, Joe will be in violation of the Florida Court order,” they said.

While the singer is “okay” with their children being raised in both the US and the UK, his rep stated that their daughters “are American citizens” born in the states and have spent “the vast majority of their lives” in the US.

“This is an unfortunate legal disagreement about a marriage that is sadly ending,” they added. “When language like ‘abduction’ is used, it is misleading at best, and a serious abuse of the legal system at worst. The children were not abducted.”

His representatives also claim that Turner’s recent petition was filed “only to move the divorce proceedings to the UK and to remove the children from the US permanently.”

“Joe has already disavowed any and all statements purportedly made on his behalf that were disparaging of Sophie. They were made without his approval and are not consistent with his views,” they said. “His wish is that Sophie reconsider her harsh legal position and move forward in a more constructive and private manner. His only concern is the well-being of his children.”