Preventing a Parental Child Abduction
When a global family reconfigures because of a divorce or separation, many complex questions must be answered to avoid parental child abduction. Attorney and Mediator, Melissa Kucinski explores steps you can take to avoid this situation.
More families today are global in nature – having connections to multiple countries, cultures, and religions. When a global family reconfigures because of a divorce or separation, many complex questions must be answered. These questions include: May a parent travel internationally with the children? Who holds the children’s passports? May a parent relocate the children overseas? If so, who pays for such relocation? It is not uncommon, in the acrimony and emotion frequently present with a separating family, that one of the parents will have concerns that the other may take their child far away, and not return. While there are often certain laws in place that may help after a child is taken, it is always important to consider how to avoid these situations in the first place.
What can you do to prevent parental child “abduction”?
One of the best measures to preventing a parental child abduction is to communicate with the other parent. I have observed that many taking parents may be scared, confused, have bad advice, and be in need of familiarity or a support system during this difficult time, precipitating their relocation overseas. During the breakdown of a relationship, communication is, no doubt, often at an all-time low between the parents, therefore, you may want to employ the services of an intermediary. A trained international family mediator can help the parents communicate and reach decisions moving forward. The end result could be a more comprehensive, concrete solution than a court could provide. Mediators who work with families are trained to help people when their communication is least effective, when they need help seeing all the potential obstacles and options in front of them. A trained international family mediator should be able to ask those questions needed to ensure a solution is realistic and sustainable, compared to a court that may be without the ability to address the family’s changing dynamics or unique cultural characteristics. You can enhance the mediation process by ensuring you have excellent specialized legal advice in place prior to starting mediation so that you know the legal parameters that may shape any agreement you reach, and have counsel accessible to you during the mediation process.
2. Get good legal counsel, in both countries
It is paramount that you find a good lawyer, well versed in international family law issues, in both your U.S. state and in the other country connected to your family. While it costs more money to hire multiple lawyers, it may be your best tool to understanding which country has the authority to take steps to protect your children, how each country views the other country’s court orders, and what the legal process may look like if you need to start a lawsuit in each country. There may be treaties, criminal laws, and at least two, if not more, countries’ domestic laws involved in your family’s legal situation. It pays dividends in the long run to assemble a solid team that gives you good information from the beginning.
3. Self care
If you find yourself in this situation, you are no doubt in the thick of significant stress. These situations can cause a rift in your communication with the other parent, and, may create difficulty in maintaining a strong bond with your child. Be certain, when establishing a team of lawyers and mediators, that you do not forget to include people to help you preserve your physical and mental health and to consult on how to ensure your relationship with your child can remain strong and in tact.
4. Passport Issuance Alert Program
A parent may complete a form with the U.S. Department of State that will alert that parent if someone files an application for a new, renewed, or duplicate U.S. passport for their child. The alert is only an alert. It is not a hold or a block on the issuance of a passport. It is not a “no fly” list. It is not a “stop” on travel. The alert also only relates to United States passports, and not any foreign travel documents a child may have or be eligible to obtain. You can find more information here: https://travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/preventing/passport-issuance-alert-program.html.
5. Parental Child Abduction Prevention Measures in a Court Order
A court order may be helpful in limiting the ability of a parent to “abduct” your child. You should consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction to determine whether you may seek a court order with “prevention measures,” for example, a prohibition of the child’s leaving a geographic area, a designation of who holds the child’s passports, or even a requirement of supervised visitation between the potential abducting parent and the child. These prevention measures can also be discussed in the mediation process mentioned above.
6. Know Resources
The U.S. Department of State (www.travel.state.gov) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.ncmec.org) have resources to help families in abduction situations. While neither entity is a substitute for employing specialized legal counsel, both have websites that include excellent resources.