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How do I stop him from taking our kids out of the United States?

July 1, 2018

International abduction can be a serious concern for parents who are divorced or separated and coparenting with someone who has ties in another country. Fortunately, the legal system and the government recognizes those dangers, and there are laws in place to protect children and parents from international abduction.

The Hague Abduction Convention is an international agreement that seeks to address child abduction from one country to another. Its purpose is to ensure that the place where the child is “habitually resident” is the place where a court has the jurisdiction to make child custody decisions. The provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention can help a parent locate and return a child to the child’s home country. However, it can be a long, complex and expensive process. Not all countries are signatories to the Hague Abduction Convention. Finally, there is still no guarantee that a child will be returned. Therefore, it is important to take preventative steps before the child is removed from the country.

First, parents should have a formal custody arrangement in place. Many parents opt for an informal arrangement, particularly while they are separated, but this can mean opting out of the many legal protections that a legally binding custody agreement can provide. It is not uncommon to have a temporary custody arrangement while the divorce is in process. Without a formal court order, there may be little law enforcement at the local, state or federal level can do.

Parents should discuss their concerns about an international child abduction with an attorney. It may be possible to get a court order that prohibits the other parent from removing the child from the country.

Parents should enroll their children in the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program. If the other parent attempts to obtain a passport for the child, the parent who enrolled the child will be contacted. If the child has dual citizenship, parents should contact the consulate of the other country to find out what steps can be taken to prevent abduction since it may be possible to take the child out of the country using a passport from the other country.

There may be certain signs that indicate the other parent is preparing to leave the country such as quitting a job or selling a home. Parents should remain alert and pay attention to their instincts if they become suspicious. Parents may also want to notify local law enforcement of the possibility of an abduction and provide them with copies of any relevant documentation including custody and other court orders.

The U.S. Department of State Office of Children’s Issues has a 24-hour number and can provide further advice. This office can also submit cases for enrollment to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Prevent Abduction program. A travel alert can be created regarding the child and the other parent, and advance passenger information is monitored against this alert. With this in place, various law enforcement offices can work together to locate the child and stop the abduction in progress.

A parent who believes an abduction is already in progress can take steps to stop it before the child is taken out of the country. When informing law enforcement of the possibility, parents should insist that the child be entered in the National Crime Information Center database quickly. This alerts the highway patrol or state troopers. If local law enforcement is inexperienced with international child abductions, parents may be able to obtain assistance from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Parents may also be able to directly contact the state FBI office to report the missing child.

Parents may also want to contact airport police if they know where the child is likely to be departing from and should notify airlines. They should be prepared to show a court order and proof of custody and should talk to an airline corporate security officer.

If the other parent does manage to get the child out of the country, in addition to the Hague Abduction Convention, the parent may also find some provisions of The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act helpful in getting the child returned. This Act, which was signed into law in 2014, applies even to countries that are not signatories to the Hague Abduction Convention. It specifies action the U.S. government can take toward countries that do not cooperate in child abduction cases ranging from official diplomatic protest up to and including suspending assistance to the country and formally requesting that the parent be extradited.

The possibility of an international child abduction can be terrifying for a parent, but there are many steps the parent can take to help protect a child. Working with an attorney, law enforcement, government and agencies dedicated to locating missing children can help put these protections in place.

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