International child abduction is more frequent than you may think. It involves one parent fleeing the U.S. with their child, and going back to their native country while leaving the other spouse behind, or a parent leaving their country of origin and illegally retaining the children against the other spouse’s wishes here in the United States. When a child is wrongfully removed or retained, this is usually done with the intent to obstruct another parent’s custodial rights. International child abductions are difficult, time consuming, complex and costly situations.

How Big Of An Issue Is This?

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Children are wrongfully abducted, or retained, almost every day. Creighton University School of Law states that nearly 20,000 international abductions take place each year and that the United States routinely experiences the largest percentage. This number probably won’t decrease, however, because these abductions usually occur as relationships between people breakdown. Most frequently it occurs after a heated or emotional marital dispute; in the early stages of separation or divorce; or during the waiting period for a custody order or agreement.

What Can I Do If I Suspect There Is A Chance My Child May Be Abducted?

Contact a lawyer with Hague Convention experience immediately. They will work with you and help you figure out what to do. Sometimes you can act pre-emptively by obtaining a valid enforceable U.S. court order that includes prevention provisions. Such an Order may restrict removing the child from the U.S.

One of the most important tools for preventing this type of abduction is by registering a child, under the age of 18, through the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program. If a passport application is submitted and your child is registered, the U.S. Department of State sends out an alert to all relevant governmental agencies.

An attorney can also warn the parent, who is considering removing or retaining the child, about the consequences of their actions. This could result in criminal charges, extradition, prosecution, and jail time. At the very least, a parent who threatens to wrongfully take a child could expect to have their visits with the child reduced or supervised.

If My Child Is Abducted, Can’t I Just Go There And Try To Rescue Them?

Taking the law into your own hands is always risky, especially in a foreign country. While you may believe that you know where your child is and that you can easily rescue him or her; the removal of your child could result in civil, or even criminal sanctions against you. For example, if the parent has sought assistance from a foreign court, they may already have a custody order issued in their favor that is contrary to what a U.S. Court order says. There have also been circumstances in which parents will file charges of child abuse against the other spouse, and when they arrive in the foreign country, they may face arrest and possible imprisonment. Needless to say, imprisonment in a foreign country means that there may be little or no chance to facilitate your child’s return.

What Laws Are In Place To Ensure The Safe Return Of The Children Who Have Been Abducted?

The most important civil remedy available to parents is the Hague Convention. This is an international treaty that allows parents to file an application seeking the return of a child wrongfully removed or retained across international borders. The treaty involves nearly all European countries including some of the former Soviet and Yugoslav republics as well as other westernized countries around the world. Members also include a few countries in Africa, South America, and the pro-western margins of the Middle East. This Convention provides for the expedited and efficient return of children. It is not concerned with custody questions or concerns. The Hague Convention is solely a jurisdictional treaty, designed for signatory countries to have a streamlined process to determine which country should ultimately make custody decisions related to the child. In the United States, Hague Convention cases are most frequently prosecuted in the Federal Courts. Unfortunately they are usually ill prepared to deal with the complexities of interpersonal relationships, which are resolved in state family courts.

What Are The Penalties Concerning International Child Abduction?

It is a federal crime for a parent to remove or attempt to remove a child from the U.S., or retain a child outside the country with the intent to obstruct another parent’s custodial rights. A parent who takes these actions is subject to federal prosecution, and if convicted, faces fines and imprisonment for up to 3 years. Family abduction is also recognized as a crime in every state. In Rhode Island, any person who intentionally removes, causes the removal of, or detains any child under the age of eighteen years, with intent to deny another person’s right of custody, under an existing decree or order of a family court, could be guilty of a felony and punished by imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars, or both.

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International child abductions are difficult and complex situations, but parents who succeed in leaving the U.S. with their children can be stopped. This is provided that foreign authorities are promptly notified and their cooperation is sought. Just remember, if you find yourself in this situation, or suspect your child will be abducted, timing is critical. With an attorney’s help, interception is possible through a Hague application, cooperation from the U.S. Department of State and foreign law enforcement agencies.