While thankfully not a common occurrence in most domestic disputes and litigation, parents embattled in a custody or divorce dispute have kidnapped their own children and left the state or even country. This is obviously a worst-case scenario for any parent, and there are several laws that cover this devastating matter to prevent the same from occurring.
Due to the complexities of these remedies in law, the following three (3) blog posts will focus on the prevention of child kidnapping through state, federal, and international laws. This blog will provide the outline of these methods, which will be explained in more detail in the following blog post series.
At the state level, local law enforcement can take immediate steps if a child has been kidnapped by a parent to stop that parent from taking the child out of the state. The first line of defense is the police force who can talk with the parent and any witnesses, find out vehicle descriptions, and any threats the parent may have made prior to the kidnapping.
The police can then use the information to attempt to locate the child. They can consult with other officers and agencies to find the child on the ground, in the air, and through any means they have available for the same.
Another state avenue that can be used is the Amber Alert. This is a program that is used federally, but that Indiana adopted in 20021. There are limitations to the statewide Amber Alert, specifically that unless there is credible information that the child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death, an Amber Alert will not be issued for children in custody disputes.
If an Amber Alert is issued, this information about the description of both the parent and child (including where they were last seen, what they were wearing, what the parent was driving, etc.) is sent out on the broadcast systems to radio listeners and television viewers to quickly spread information and encourage people who see suspicious or related activities to call the police.
Another avenue that can prevent or locate victims of parental abduction is the federal law, Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (“PKPA”)2. This act provides that all states are to enforce a foreign state’s custody decree. For example, if a parent has been granted sole physical custody in Indiana, the other parent who abducted the child and tried to file for custody in Ohio would be unable to do so under the PKPA.
This federal law ensures that whatever the courts in one state have determined to be the appropriate custody arrangement is honored in all states, without allowing for another state’s court to make a contrary decision regarding custody.
The third avenue for locating a child abducted by a parent is the Hague Convention, which is an international law for those countries who have ratified the same3. The relevant section of the Hague Convention, relating to International Child Abduction, returns children to their habitual residence (with the custodial parent) even if there is a court order in the country to which the other parent has fled with the child. This minimizes the extremely complex issues of international jurisdiction and venue which would prevent the child from being returned to their proper home due to legal issues.
These laws to prevent or return a kidnapped child are complex and this blog post serves to introduce all three major avenues for same. The following three (3) blogs will address each of these avenues individually and more specifically. We hope that this blog post has created a backdrop for the same. Stay tuned for the remainder of the series. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.