Parental kidnapping occurs when one parent wrongfully takes or keeps a child from another parent. Every state has a parental kidnapping law, most of which are similar. California’s law states that any person that “takes, entices away, keeps, withholds, or conceals a child” from someone with a lawful right to custody or visitation shall be punished with a $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in county jail.
Under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act of 1993, a Federal law, it is illegal for anyone to either take or attempt take a child from the United States in any way that “interferes” with a parent’s “lawful exercise” of his or her parental rights and keep a child from returning to the U.S., if doing so interferes with a parent’s lawful exercise of their parental rights. Punishment for violation involves a significant fine and/or up to three years in prison.
The U.S. is also a party to the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, drafted at the 1980 Hague Conference. This treaty states that it is “wrongful” when a child is removed or retained from the “state in which the child was habitually resident” when it violates a parent’s “rights of custody.” When this occurs, treaty signatories must immediately return the taken children to the country from which they came, so that its courts can settle the custody dispute. In the U.S., the “authority” appointed to assist parents is the Office of Children’s Issues in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.
If your child has been wrongfully taken from the U.S., you should first report the loss of your child to the police. You should then contact the Office of Children’s Issues. It will ask the country in which your child is found to order their immediate return. You should notify the U.S. court that issued your custody order. If your child has been wrongfully brought into the U.S. while you are not living here you can go to court where the child resides and ask for their immediate return.
To prevent parental kidnapping, insure that the custody order governing your child explicitly mentions how visitation will work and what happens when you or the other parent wants to relocate or travel with your child. Orders rarely work where it is left to the parents to decide how much visitation will occur, i.e. “reasonable visitation.” You should set out a very clear, long term, detailed visitation schedule, highlighting “small” things like how birthdays, minor holidays, two-day school breaks, as well as the major things like who pays travel costs, medical and schooling decisions. If both parents agree, then you can divert from your court ordered schedule, but if you cannot agree, then the non custodial parent has a greater opportunity to force compliance with the Order. Every custody order should contain a moving/travel notification requirement as well.
If you fear that your child might be taken out of the country without your permission, you should sign up for the U.S. Department of State’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP). This program allows parents to ask for notification if a passport is being issued to their child.
If you have any questions, call the Legal Assistance office at 380-5321 or visit the office in building 288 on Barstow Road, between 2nd and 3rd Street.