The Muddy Waters of Financial Restitution Against Parental Abductors
In federal court, a convicted offender may be ordered to reimburse victims for financial losses incurred due to the offender’s crime. This reimbursement is called “restitution”. Parental International Child Abduction is against the law, however, the provisions of such cases are not crystal clear. Read on to learn more.
Parental kidnapping on an international level is on the rise, and it has become a serious concern for many. We often wonder whether the law considers it a crime, and the answer is definitely “yes”.
Individual perpetrators may be held responsible for reparations in international criminal procedures, yet experiences to date demonstrate this to be an unlikely avenue for the majority of victims.
Under U.S. law, a left-behind parent whose child has been abducted to the United States can seek reimbursement from the abducting parent for the expenses incurred in seeking the child’s return. 22 U.S.C. §9007(b)(3).
However, there is no clear provision entitling a left-behind parent whose child has been abducted out of the United States to seek reimbursement from the abducting parent for the expenses incurred in seeking the child’s return to his or her home country.
Here’s what you need to know about financial restitution against parental abductors.
Gray Areas of Financial Restitution
Restitution is the practice of holding offenders accountable for the financial losses suffered by victims of their crimes. Restitution may be ordered in both juvenile and criminal courts to compensate victims for out-of-pocket expenses that are the direct result of a crime. When it comes to International Child Abduction cases through The Hague Convention, the Ninth and Tenth Circuits appear to disagree on whether federal law allowing restitution to crime victims can be used to recoup a left-behind parent’s legal expenses.
Examples of Financial Restitution
The Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 permits a federal district court to order a criminal defendant to pay restitution to a victim in an amount up to “expenses related to participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense.” 18 U.S.C. §3663(b)(4). But as you’ll read below, on appeal, the Tenth Circuit overturned the restitution award.
In 2002, U.S. v. Cummings, 281 F.3d 1046, the defendant’s father was convicted of violating the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA) by abducting his children from their home in Washington State to Germany.
The mother who was left behind brought a return action against the father under the Hague Abduction Convention and an action in Washington State for contempt of court for violating a custody order. The father was sentenced to jail time, ordered to pay the mother’s legal fees and expenses, and required to participate in counseling.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the restitution award, holding that the mother’s civil cases were not “wholly separate” from the government’s prosecution of the father. This was supported by the fact that, by initiating a case under the Hague Convention, the mother had followed the procedure specifically described in the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act as the preferred “option of first choice” for a left-behind parent.
In 2020, U.S. v. Mobley, 971 F.3d 1187, did not follow the Cummings verdict. In Mobley, the government prosecuted a mother under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA) for her abduction of her children from their home in Kansas to Russia. Once she was in Russia, she filed for divorce and custody; the left-behind father then sued for divorce and custody in Kansas.
The Russia court had given custody to the mother, and the Kansas Court gave custody to the father. The district court found the mother guilty under the IPKCA and ordered restitution to the father of legal fees and expenses that he incurred in connection with both civil cases.
However, on appeal, the Tenth Circuit held that the trial court erred in awarding restitution under 18 U.S.C. §3663 because the expenses incurred were not related to the investigation or prosecution of the mother’s criminal offense. It held that these terms are limited to proceedings related to the government’s investigation or prosecution and those proceedings related to attendance at court related to such matters.
The evidence showed that while there was no evidence that the government sanctioned or directed the father’s civil proceedings, there was also no evidence that his suit assisted in any way in the criminal prosecution against the mother.
Based on the analysis of the current state of international law, it is clear that the state has positive duties to prevent violations and demonstrate due diligence. But there’s a long way to go.
How Masters Law Group Can Help
There is an increasing trend in favor of enabling individual victims of violations of international humanitarian law to seek reparation directly from the responsible State. However, the water is muddy to say the least. In future cases, the recent codification of international criminal law has significantly influenced the discourse on post-conflict justice, while legal research on post-conflict justice has been inspired by the rapid developments in international justice mechanisms. As a result, much focus has been on the accountability of perpetrators, in particular, in the application of universal jurisdiction.
The family law attorneys at Masters Law Group are highly experienced with international parental child abduction disputes. If you believe your child is at threat of being abducted by a parent, legal guardian, or someone acting on their behalf, contact us today for a consultation.
For more information on our recent Hague Decisions, see here: