How Child Abduction Can Affect Legal Rights to Custody
Parenthood is rife with fears that someone or something will bring harm to your child. While the fear that a stranger will kidnap their child is prevalent among parents, most instances of child abduction occur in cases involving custody disputes. If one parent unjustly prevents the other parent of a child from seeing the child despite a custody order requiring them to do so, and will not provide the other parent with information regarding the child’s whereabouts, it is considered a parental child abduction.
Keep identifying information like your co-parent’s license plate number or even a copy of their passport on file.
An important step in preventing your child from being abducted is to teach him or her your home address, full name, and telephone number. If possible, it is helpful to provide the child with a phone or if the child is very young, ensure he or she knows how to use a phone, and to call you if he or she feels unsafe, or his or her other parent is acting strangely. It can also be helpful to have information about your co-parent, including his or her address, the make, model, and license plate number of his or her car, and contact information for his or her relatives if you are concerned about a possibility of abduction.
The first thing you should do if your child has been abducted by your co-parent is contact the police. They may be able to determine the location of your child, facilitate the safe return of your child, and take your co-parent into custody. If there is a custody order or agreement in place, your co-parent has undoubtedly violated the terms of custody by abducting your child. As such you can petition the court to hold your co-parent in contempt and seek to modify the custody arrangement. If a custody action has not yet been filed, it would likely be best to file an action to establish custody of the child. The court will always act in the best interest of the child, and depending on the severity of the circumstances, the court may drastically limit or even terminate your co-parent’s right to custody.
Recovering a Child That Has Been Abducted to Another State
If your child has been abducted to another state, you may need to petition the court in that state for the return of your child. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which has been accepted in all states except Massachusetts, and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), which is a federal law, require states to recognize and enforce custody orders from other states. As such, if a custody order is in place in your home state, a court in the state your child has been taken to can issue an order directing your co-parent to return your child.
Recovering a Child That Has Been Abducted to Another Country
If your co-parent has abducted your child to another country, your ability to force your co-parent to return to the United States largely depends on whether the other country is a signatory to the Hague Convention, which is an international treaty that provides that children abducted from their home country should be returned. A parent seeking the return of his or her child via the Hague Convention must file a petition requesting a hearing to determine whether the child was wrongfully removed from his or her home country. If the court in the foreign country determines the child was wrongfully abducted, it will order the child to be returned to his or her home country within six weeks.
A case may be classified as an abduction if a child was kept in a foreign country past the parents’ agreed-upon return date.