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Parental Kidnapping

The recent news story involving Joshua and Sharyn Hakken, a Florida couple accused of kidnapping their children and fleeing to Cuba, highlights the issue of parental kidnapping in the United States.  As divorce rates soar, and contentious child custody battles seem to be all around us, there are more and more instances where one parent flees with the children.  But what happens when the children are removed from North Carolina?  Or even the United States?  What protections are in place?

One safeguard in the United States is the Full Faith and Credit clause of the United States Code.  This provision states that every state will recognize and enforce a custody order from another state.  Practically speaking, this means that if a parent has been given custody by one state, the other parent cannot remove the child from that state, in the hopes of escaping the current custody order.  This provision applies not only in the fifty states, but also in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the United States Territories.

To address growing issues with international kidnapping, the U.S. Department of State enacted the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.  Under this program, parents can register their children, and will be contacted by the State Department if another parent or guardian applies for a passport for the child.  This is particularly useful in custody disputes where international travel is a concern.  If a parent objects to the issuance of the passport after being notified by the authorities, the U.S. Passport Agencies, embassies, and consulates abroad will be alerted.

Another safeguard put in place to combat parental kidnapping was the creation of The Hague Convention.  The Hague Convention is an international treaty that was enacted in 1988 to specifically address international kidnapping.  Today, the Hague treaty is in place between the United States and 48 other countries.  Under the Hague Convention, any child that is wrongfully removed from the United States (or another participating country of residence) must be returned to that country.  Each participating country has established authorities to process the inquiries and returns.  While this law prevents a kidnapper from hiding under the safeguards of another country’s laws, the Hague Convention may be of little help when the location of the child is not known and the kidnapper is truly “on the run.”

If you are concerned about your child being removed from your state of residence, or feel that someone you know may try to circumvent the courts to prevent you from seeing your child, it is important that you consult with an experienced family law attorney.  In addition to the resources listed above, there are other steps, both in and out of court, which can be taken to minimize the risk to your child and help give you peace of mind.  Contact Mahlum Law Office to learn about all of your options, we can help.

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