Going through separation and divorce can be intensely emotional for both partners, particularly when children are involved. Child custody often becomes the main point of contention in divorce cases. As a result, parents commonly become concerned about the possibility of their children being kidnapped by the other parent. Parental kidnapping is considered a crime under state and federal law and can also have implications for a parent’s custody rights. If you would like to learn more about how to prevent parental kidnapping in your situation, or if your child has been kidnapped by his or her other parent, consider contacting a skilled attorney from the Colorado Divorce Law Group by calling (720) 593-6442 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.
Parental kidnapping occurs when one parent takes his or her child with the intent of hiding the child from the custodial parent. There are many possible scenarios in which parental kidnapping can occur, including violating custody orders and taking a child out of the state or country without informing the other parent. According to Child Find of America, more than 200,000 children are victims of family abduction each year. In 78 percent of cases, the abductor is the non-custodial parent.
The federal law, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980, covers child custody jurisdiction. Under this law, only the child’s home state can issue and modify child custody orders. A child’s home state is defined as the state in which the child lived for a minimum of six consecutive months prior to filing for custody orders. This also means that a child’s existing custody orders cannot be modified by another state, except when the child has lived in that state for at least six months. This law can protect families in the event of a parental kidnapping situation by preventing the former spouse from modifying existing custody orders through a family court in another state.
Any parent involved in a high-conflict custody or divorce case should consider the risk of parental kidnapping. The key steps that can be taken to prevent parental kidnapping include:
Parental kidnapping may be more likely to occur if there is no custody agreement in place or if one parent is unhappy with the custody arrangement. When there is no written plan detailing the days and times when the child is with each parent, one parent has no grounds for accusing the other parent of violating custody rights or, in extreme cases, of kidnapping the child. While a formal custody plan is part of the divorce process, a temporary custody plan is necessary to cover the time during which the parents are separated but not yet divorced. A temporary plan can be agreed and put in writing by the spouses themselves or with the help of a family attorney.
All adults who are responsible for caring for the child, including the school, daycare center, or babysitter, should be informed of the custody plan and be provided with a copy. These caregivers should be given clear instructions on who is authorized to pick up the child each day of the week, and they should be made aware that they are not to release the child to anyone else without the custodial parent’s consent.
Maintaining accurate records and documentation is important if the need arises to take swift action in the event of a kidnapping emergency. These documents may include:
Any violation of the custody agreement by a former spouse and other red flags should be documented. Documentation of these behaviors and actions can be used as evidence in court if necessary to prove parental kidnapping or to assist in making modifications to an existing custody arrangement. The suspicious behaviors to note may include:
Regularly communicating with the child is a practical and effective way for a parent to prevent parental kidnapping. Depending on the child’s age, this may involve teaching the child to use a phone and memorize phone numbers and staying in contact with the child through phone calls, texts, and emails. An additional option is to enable GPS tracking on the child’s phone.
If a former spouse is being violent or abusive, a temporary restraining order may be possible to prevent him or her from contacting the other parent or children for a certain period of time. A restraining order can be obtained by contacting the local police department or family court.
If your former spouse has kidnapped your child or is acting in violation of a court order, call 911 immediately. Law enforcement can help you locate your child and file a parental kidnapping claim under Colorado law.
An experienced family law attorney from the Colorado Divorce Law Group can advise parents on how best to prevent parental kidnapping. Family lawyers can help to ensure that clear custody orders are in place and can help parents learn more about their legal rights.
In some cases, a spouse or former spouse may attempt to abduct a child by taking the child out of the country. This may be a particular concern for you if your spouse has family or citizenship outside of the United States. There are several preventive steps parents can take, including:
A custody order can include a provision that requires the other parent to consent to the child being taken out of the state or country. If this provision is part of the court order, any violation of this restriction will be a criminal offense and will result in consequences for the offending parent.
If there is evidence to indicate that the former spouse may abduct the child by taking him or her out of the country, the family court can be requested to hold the child’s passport. If the child does not have a passport, the United States Department of State Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program can be used to ensure that the custodial parent is alerted if a passport application is submitted for the child.
In cases where the former spouse holds citizenship in another country, it may be possible for him or her to obtain a visa or citizenship for the children without the other parent’s consent. Therefore, one may want to contact the former spouse’s home embassy or consulate and send them certified copies of all court orders that are in place. One parent may also be able to find out if a visa or citizenship application has been submitted for the child. Those countries that are members of the Hague Convention, according to the United States Department of State, are most likely to comply with these types of requests.
In high-conflict divorce and custody cases, where there exists a real possibility of parental kidnapping, it may be wise to obtain the advice and counsel of an experienced family law attorney. By closing any loopholes or gaps in custody agreements and court orders and by taking the necessary precautions, a parent can protect the child from the potentially terrible situation of parental kidnapping. If you would like to learn more about how to prevent parental kidnapping, or if you are facing a parental kidnapping situation, consider contacting a skilled family law attorney at the Colorado Divorce Law Group by calling (720) 593-6442.