Hague Convention Attorney

International Parental Abduction – What You Should Know

International parental child abduction is an act of illegally taking a child from their home. Usually by one of the parents, but it can also be done by an acquaintance or another member of the family, and taking him to another county. Here’s what you need to know about this growing problem. 

When parents report that their children have been abducted or retained outside of the United States, country officers inform them of potential options and provide resources to help them seek the return of, or access to, their children. International Parental Abduction is more common than you think.

In 2020, country officers responded to 157 initial inquiries in which parents sought information and resources regarding abductions, but did not proceed with providing complete documentation. Country officers handled 664 total outgoing abduction cases, including 246 cases opened in 2020. Of those cases,129 were resolved with the return of 185 abducted children to the United States.

Here’s a look at the Hague Abduction Convention, and what you should know about International Parental Abduction.

Is Your Child at Risk for An International Abduction?

There’s certain traits and characteristics of offending parents that make it easier to spot if they are capable of abduction your child. It is important to remember that these signs do not necessarily mean that your child’s other parent is going to abduct your child; these are signs that you need to make sure you are being more aware of. Here are some examples below:

  • Parents who threaten to abduct their children and/or have abducted their children before.
  • Parents who believe their children are being abused and have a support group that also believes this.
  • Parents with paranoia or sociopathic tendencies.
  • Parents with strong ties and family support in another country.
  • Parents frustrated with the legal system in the United States who have supportive family and friends.

It’s not unusual for a parent who abducts their child to believe that they know what is best for the child. Young children are the easiest to abduct because they don’t know to go for help or do anything to bring attention to their parents taking them.  Some other warning signs and factors that are important to be aware of are:

  • A parent with no source of income/job.
  • A parent who is financially independent.
  • A parent with no real ties to the community they live in.
  • A parent who abruptly quits their job, sells their home, applies for passports.
  • A parent who starts collecting the child’s medical and school records.
  • A parent who has domestic violence and/or child abuse history.

Protecting Your Child From International Parental Abduction

When developing a child custody order, it is important that the order be very specific in regard to the rights of each parent. You should avoid vague phrases like “reasonable visitation” because the word reasonable can be interpreted differently.. Joint custody should also be avoided if there has been any history of abduction or the risk of abduction is high.  

Your court order should include why the court has jurisdiction in the matter of your child and state that both parents were given the opportunity to present their case to the court regarding custody. In order for your court order to be able to be enforced nationwide, the court’s exercise of their jurisdiction has to comply with the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA).

Your court order can specify that your child is not allowed to leave the state you reside in without written consent from the other parent.  

The court order can also ban a parent from applying for a passport for your child.  If your child already has a passport, the court can require that the passport be surrendered. If you have information that your child would most likely be taken to a specific country, you can notify that embassy or consulate and provide them with the court order to request any visa requests for your child be denied.

If the risk to your child being abducted by their other parent is high, the court is typically more likely to put protections in the court order to prevent abduction. The court looks at the following factors: risk of abduction is high, recovering the child would be very difficult, and the abduction would be harmful to the child.

Some additional steps to lower the risk of parental abduction or increase your odds recovering your child if they are abducted would be:

  • Have up-to-date pictures of your child.
  • Have a written detailed description of your child including: height, weight, hair color, eye color, birthmarks, and noticeable physical characteristics.
  • Copies of your child’s Social Security card and passport.
  • Fingerprints of your child.
  • Have your child/children learn how to use a telephone and how to call the police.
  • Keep schools, daycares, and other child care providers informed of current custody orders.
  • Register your child with the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP).

International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA)

The International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA), is a multi-lateral treaty developed by the Hague Convention on Private International Law.

ICARA is United States federal law that implements the HAC between American states and American states internationally with other countries.  It went into effect in 1988.

When a child is alleged removed from his/her habitual residence, or a parent is not allowed his/her visitation with a child under a previous legal agreement, that child’s parent can now bring an action in local court under ICARA.  After a showing of the other parent’s wrongdoing, the alleged wrongdoer must show to the court one of the following:

  • that the person requesting the return of the child was not actually exercising custody’ at the time of the removal or retention;
  • that the person requesting the return of the child had consented to or acquiesced in the removal or retention;
  • that more than one year has passed from the time of wrongful removal or retention until the date of the commencement of judicial or administrative proceedings;
  • that the child is old enough and has a sufficient degree of maturity to knowingly object to the person requesting the return of the child, and that it is appropriate to heed that objection;
  • that there is grave risk that the child’s return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation; or
  • that return of the child would subject the child to violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Attempting to have one’s child returned to his/her care or to be able to exercise one’s visitation rights either by state to state or from state to an international country is very complicated.  It is highly recommended that a professional family law attorney be retained to navigate the legalities involved.

Child Custody and Visitation Matters

With the exception of international parental abduction, child custody and visitation matters are handled by local and state authorities, and not by the federal government. The matters are governed by the relevant state family court system and human services agency. Therefore, child custody or visitation issues should be reported to state or local law enforcement authorities or a state judicial officer.

In addition to contacting the Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues, law enforcement or left-behind parents should also contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“NCMEC”): www.missingkids.org. NCMEC works closely with the State Department and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime and administers its Victim Reunification Travel Program. Eligible parents can request financial assistance so they can be reunited with a child located in another country or obtain travel support for the child’s return to the United States.

Finally, seeking a family law firm who are highly experienced in cases involving international child custody disputes (in both courts located in the State of Illinois and the United States federal court system) could be an invaluable resource in this incredibly stressful time.

Additional Resources on International Parental Abduction

Final Thoughts

Many countries throughout the world, including the United States, belong to the Hague Convention, and will negotiate treaties to help streamline international justice. When family law disputes cross international boundaries, it is essential to have the help from a knowledgeable family law attorney who understands all of the legalities that go along with international child custody cases.

Our attorneys, Erin Masters and Anthony Joseph, have extensive knowledge and experience with The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“The Hague Convention”) that was enacted into law through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (“ICARA”). 

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