Several high profile cases in the past years have brought to light an alarming rise in the ever increasing problem of parental abduction. Oftentimes, a parent will threaten to remove the child from the country, and this chart, reproduced from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, helps a worried parent decide when the threat is real and what steps he or she should do when the other parent is threatening to abduct their child:
||Behavioral Indicators *
|When there has been a prior threat of or actual abduction
- Threatens to take child, has a history of hiding child, refuses visits, or snatches child.
- Has no financial or emotional ties to area.
- Has resources to survive in hiding or help from others to do so; has liquidated assets or has made maximum withdrawals of funds against credit cards.
- Obtain certified copy of custody/visitation order specifying access and jurisdiction.
- Obtain restraining order that prohibits leaving area without permission.
- Flag passports or school, medical, and birth records so that both parents need to approve the release of or at least be advised of the other parent’s request to see these materials.
- Supervise visits or use electronic surveillance.
- Require that potential abducting parent post bonds.
- Provide family counseling and mediation of impasse.
|When a parent suspects or believes abuse has occurred and friends and family members support these concerns
- Has a fixed belief that the child is abused, molested, or neglected and that authorities will not take charges seriously and will dismiss them as unsubstantiated.
- Has the support of friends and family.
- Makes repetitive allegations and is increasingly hostile; distrust between parents exists.
- Undertake a timely, thorough investigation of allegations.
- Inform concerned social network.
- Coordinate all professionals involved to share perspectives and conclusions.
- Implement temporary supervised visits to protect abused child or falsely accused parent. If investigation is inconclusive, appoint coparenting counselor-arbitrator to provide counseling, rebuild trust, and monitor situation.
- Provide the child with therapy.
|When a parent is paranoid delusional
- Is flagrantly paranoid and irrational and makes allegations.
- Has a history of hospitalizations for mental illness and has delusions of mind control.
- Engages in bizarre forms of domestic violence; boundary confusion observable between parent and child.
- Makes threats of murder/suicide.
- Assess lethality!
- Conduct emergency ex partehearing for psychiatric screening; appoint legal representation for child and deluded parent.
- Suspend visits or supervise with high security.
- Award temporary custody to other parent or to third party.
- Provide adult psychiatric treatment and child therapy.
|When a parent is severely sociopathic
- Has multiple arrests and convictions and a blatant contempt for court orders.
- Stalks, makes threats of domestic violence, manipulates and controls, or initiates vexatious litigation.
- Has self-serving, exploitive, and self-aggrandizing relationships.
- Have the parent obtain appropriate restraining orders.
- Engage decisive use of court authority; obtain explicit court orders and rapid sanctions for contempt; fine or jail.
- Suspend or supervise access and resume unsupervised visits contingent on conforming behavior.
|When a parent who is a citizen of another country ends a mixed-culture marriage
- See “When there has been a prior threat of or actual abduction”.
- Idealizes own family, homeland, and culture after dissolution of mixed-cultural marriage and depreciates American culture; rejects or dismisses child’s mixed heritage.
- Feels separation and divorce are severe loss/humiliation.
- Feels homeland offers more emotional/ financial support.
- Is a high risk if from a non-Hague country.‡
- See “When there has been a prior threat of or actual abduction“.
- Require that parent departing with child post bonds to ensure return from visiting homeland; hold passport and monitor airlines.
- Obtain mirror custody orders with country of origin; inform families of consequences of aiding custody violation.
- Provide culturally sensitive divorce counseling, including child’s need for both parents and both cultural identities.
- Provide emotional/financial support.
|When parents feel alienated from the legal system and have family/social support in another community
- Is undergoing severe economic hardship, is poorly educated, and never married.
- Is a member of an ethnic minority group, has language barriers, and has cultural beliefs regarding custody contrary to U.S. legal norms.
- Is a victim of domestic violence and is alienated from major social institutions.
- Has family/social support in another geographic area.
- Provide access to legal services,pro se clinics, and translation assistance.
- Advocate community services.
- Provide culturally sensitive divorce and custody counseling/mediation.
- Educate parent and social network regarding abduction laws.
* Common to all profiles: (1) Parent dismisses value of other parent for child, (2) child is very young or vulnerable to influence, and (3) abductor has family and social support.
† General principle: More restrictive measures that curtail parents’ freedoms are warranted when (1) the risks for abduction are greater, (2) the obstacles to the recovery of the child are more substantial, and (3) the potential harm to the child is more extensive.
‡ The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, ratified in 1986, is an international treaty that establishes administrative and judicial mechanisms to bring about the prompt return of an abducted or wrongfully retained child, usually to his or her country of habitual residence, and to facilitate the exercise of visitation across international borders. The Convention took effect in 1988, following enactment of the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, a Federal implementing statute.
If you feel that your child is at risk and the threat of abduction is real, call a lawyer right away—you need to be on the offensive, not the defensive for your child’s sake!