It’s not uncommon for one parent to have ties to or citizenship in another country. And for the vast majority of people this is actually a good thing. It provides life experiences children may not have but for diversity of their parents.
But divorce can cause people to do desperate things. And unfortunately, when the strife and pain of divorce and separation reach their climax, a parent may go to the extreme length of abducting a child or children.
If you are one of those unfortunate parents for which this is a genuine possibility, taking action now can minimize or stop altogether the chances of something terrible happening later. Below is a list of actions you can take to protect your children:
1. Remove children’s passports from your spouse’s possession: It is difficult to travel in today’s high-security world without passports for children. One option is to have a spouse deposit the children’s passports with his or her attorney to be held in a safe place. In many cases this can be done by agreement. However, your attorney can ask the court to order that passports be removed from the possession of the other parent. This can be done with a normal hearing; or, in the situation where the concern is that there is going to be an imminent abduction of children, this can be done on an emergency basis by sending a motion to the judge without letting the other parent know.
2. Include a provision in your timesharing agreement prohibiting the children from being removed from the state without the permission of both parties: In the divorce process there are often multiple timesharing or custody agreements reached between spouses. While we often focus on the big stuff like how many overnights the children spend with mom and how many they spend with dad, some of the smaller stuff can be just as important. In cases where there is a concern that one of the parents might abduct a child, the other parent can insist on a clause in the agreement that requires permission from both parties before either parent travels with the children to another state. Once this agreement is signed, it will be ratified by a judge and therefore become a court order. When a court order is in place, a violation of that order can be dealt with very swiftly by contacting judges who have the power to get local and federal police involved it necessary.
3. Check periodically with the home embassy of the other parent’s home country for additional passports, visas, or documents permitting travel: If the other parent has dual citizenship, then that parent may have the ability to go to their home country and get passports, visas, or other documents issued on behalf of the parent and children to travel. While there isn’t a perfect mechanism to prohibit this, in situations where it seems like a child abduction is a real concern it would be wise for the concerned parent to check with the other spouse’s home embassy to make sure such documents have not been requested or obtained.
4. Gather documents about your child: To reduce the risk of child abduction, you’ll want to collect important documents and keep them in a safe place and readily available. These include a certified copy of your marriage certificate, the child’s birth certificate, color photos of the child, both full-body and close-ups, a written description of your child or children including height, weight, hair color, dental records, copies of Social Security cards, U.S. passports, school records, medical records, and any other official records . And. of course, keep copies of any certified court documents pertaining to the child or children in your case.
5. Ask the judge to prohibit copies of children’s birth certificates from being issued by the Bureau of Vital Statistics: If you have a good-faith basis to believe that abduction of your child is a real possibility, then you can go to a judge and request that the judge issue an order that the State of Florida refused to issue additional copies of the child’s birth certificate to either parent upon request. This order would be granted by the judge and transmitted to the state and made part of the file.
6. Send a copy of an order by certified mail to the embassy of the other parent’s home country letting them know what the timesharing plan is: A good course of action to preempt a spouse fleeing with the couple’s children to the spouse’s home country is by sending a certified copy of the judgment to the other country and asking them to recognize that judgment should the other parent take a contrary position in his home country. This is not foolproof, especially in cases where the country that the other parent is from is not a member of the Hague Convention, but it is a best practice and may help in the event of a child’s abduction.
7. Have the order above translated into the language of the other parent’s home country: When sending an order to the home country of the other parent, take it a step further and have the order translated into the language of the other parent’s home country. This should enable the order to gain more attention and traction when it is reviewed by an authority who receives it via certified mail.
8. Keep close at hand copies of your order or judgment related to timesharing: When there is great risk of a parent abducting a child or children, the other parent will need to be able to move quickly if abduction actually occurs. A great way to be prepared is to keep copies of the final judgment close at hand so they can be delivered to local or federal law enforcement at a moment’s notice. In this day and age, that means keeping a digital copy as well as a physical certified copy of the judgment.
9. Make sure your child’s phone has GPS tracking: In this era of Smartphones, it is wise to make sure that the Smartphone your child or children use has GPS capability and findability. For example, Apple iPhones utilize a “find-my-location” device that will allow the parent to search for the phone and consequently the child.
10. If possible, make sure your children have e-mail or other avenues to communicate with you: While there is obviously an age restriction to this suggestion, ensuring that your children have the ability to communicate readily and easily with you via the Internet or computer can be helpful should they be in a position where they are in danger of abduction.
11. Teach your younger children how to use the telephone, how to direct dial, and how to avoid strangers.
12. Seek a stipulation or court order defining that the place where the action is pending has exclusive continuing jurisdiction over all custody matters to preempt the other spouse from trying to use a foreign jurisdiction to get a competing custody award: While the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act does spell out what particular place is the home state of minor children, there are some places that do not follow that particular act. The best practice is to make sure that any orders defining child custody clearly delineate the home state and that the place having continuing jurisdiction for the child custody case is the jurisdiction in which you’re currently having your divorce case.
13. Keep an eye out for changes in the other spouse’s life.: If you are concerned that your former spouse might be inclined to abduct your children, it makes sense to keep a stronger eye on your former spouse, including being alert to how your former spouse is handling any changes in your life such as remarriage or moving plans. Does your former spouse have plans to travel temporarily or permanently? Keep an eye on the situation.
14. Report to law enforcement immediately if your children are moved out of the country without your permission: While this seems obvious, it’s not uncommon for parents to fail to report to law enforcement in a timely manner when their child or children have been removed from the jurisdiction of the state. Report children as missing immediately. The names of missing children must be entered by law enforcement into the National Crime Information Center, a national system for locating missing children.
International Abductions and the Hague Convention
The increase in international marriages has led to an increase in international child abduction cases. As of July 1988, the United States is a member of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The purpose of this convention is to prevent abductions and the wrongful detention of children when they are brought to the United States or transported to another country.
“Desiring to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention…as well as to secure protection for rights of access.” –Hague Abduction Convention, Preamble
The Hague Convention is an international agreement that can help you as a parent get your children back when they are taken abroad in violation of your parental rights. Currently, the United States is partnered with 74 countries under the convention.
The reality is that even if you have a United States custody order, certain other nations may not recognize these orders without the convention. Each country is a sovereign nation, and sovereign nations are not allowed to interfere with other country’s legal systems or law-enforcement. However, the convention provides legal mechanisms for countries to work together on international abduction cases.
Each country that is part of the Hague Convention is required to have a central authority. This central authority is the main point of contact for the parents and the governments involved in the adoption cases. The central authority helps a parent locate abducted children, encourages a nice resolution to the abduction case if possible, and helps process the request for return of children.
Does the Hague Convention Apply to My Case?
Not every case can be controlled by the Hague Convention. For the convention to be applicable and be an option to help you if your child is abducted, you must be able to show the following:
- That the child is a habitual resident in one of the convention countries and that the child was wrongfully removed from one of the convention countries and that removal is a violation of custodial rights.
- A convention is in effect between the two countries at issue.
- The child is under the age of 16 at the time the application is filed.
Steps to Take if there is a Child Abduction
- Contact local authorities in the U.S.
- Gather documents about your child.
- Discuss the case with your country officer to decide if it is appropriate file a Hague application.
In cases where a child has been abducted, the very first step is to contact local authorities in the U.S. You can start with state authorities or federal authorities, but you want to start with an authority that’s in your current jurisdiction. Bring the documents you have gathered regarding your child. From there, you will be contacting your country’s central authority to discuss possible actions and alternatives under the convention.
Understand that you will likely be retaining an attorney in the foreign jurisdiction to help you through this process.