Child custody court orders and separation agreements provide some measure of protection for parents against their child being kidnapped by the other parent and moved out of the country. Many of the protections act proactively to prevent such an act from taking place. However, even in the event that the unthinkable happens, there are some steps to be taken that can help bring about the safe return of your child. Returning a child taken from the US and returning him back home is, unfortunately, not an easy task. However, it is far from impossible, and there are numerous stories of parents being reunited with their children after they had been taken out of the country.
The first steps towards keeping your child in the United States begin before any event can even happen. Parents should include language in any separation agreement that dictates the circumstances under which a parent can take a child to another country for a visit. If the other parent will not agree to it, then insist that a family law judge insert that language in a custody order. If you think that there is any risk that the other parent will try to move them overseas, insist on even stronger language in the agreement or court order.
Parents also must consent to their child receiving a US passport. They must sign a notarized form in order for their child to get a passport. If you think that there is any chance that your child may be taken out of the US, you should refuse your consent for your child to receive a passport because a child cannot leave the country without one.
Assuming that the worst case scenario comes to pass, there are actions that you can take that may help your case. The most important thing that you can do starts with a recognition that you cannot do this on your own. When dealing with events that partly involve foreign powers, there are many factors at play. Many of these are not immediately apparent to an average person just trying to return their child to their home country. As a result, you need to start by figuring out the right people who to ask for help. There may be some sensitive international relations issues to navigate to get your child back, because this will almost always involve the country where your child has been taken. Short of going over to the foreign country and bringing the child back yourself (which is certainly not recommended) many of the steps that you take will involve enlisting someone else’s help who is in a better position to do something.
The first thing that you should do is reach out to law enforcement, both domestically and internationally. Contacting law enforcement in the domestic jurisdiction where the child’s mother lives will lay the foundation for a kidnapping charge against the abducting parent. Nothing can be done criminally to the parent who has taken the child if it is not reported. It is also vital to contact the law enforcement where the child has been taken so that they are aware of the situation. In many instances, the law enforcement in the foreign country may be less than helpful. But it is vital to make the link with them, too. Law enforcement may also include Interpol, who issues abducted child alerts internationally.
You will also need to retain counsel to help guide you through the process. As much as you would like to do this on your own, a lawyer will have a better idea of the legal landscape that you face and will help guide you in your communications with various outside parties. In addition, they will make sure that you fully vindicate whatever legal rights that you have.
Next, it is also vitally important to contact the State Department. Kidnapped children often become a matter of international diplomacy that you cannot engage on your own. It is best to enlist the people who are statutorily charged with representing the United States in the international arena. The State Department will often raise the issue of an abducted child with the relevant foreign country. Sometimes, the status of that particular child will come into play when other international agreements are being negotiated. If anything, the State Department will be familiar with the laws of the foreign country.
Another person to contact is your member of Congress. This is especially important to make sure that you get the full cooperation from the State Department. Oftentimes, the State Department will be much more cooperative when it is a member of Congress raising an issue than they would be when you are completely on your own. Federal agencies have to answer requests from Members of Congress, because it is Congress that gives them their money. The State Department will likely want to work with your legislator rather than risk their wrath if they are uncooperative. Your representative or senator may be in a better position than you to get some answers.
In addition, you should make sure to contact the media. The more attention that is focused on your situation, the better. If your child becomes a cause, more pressure will be brought to bear on the country where your child is currently located. Foreign countries often do not like receiving negative news attention in the US, and sheltering an abducting mother and child is not worth the consequences that could occur. Foreign countries often have security and monetary incentives to maintain good relations with the United States. Further, negative media attention can hurt a country economically. The more attention your case receives, the more likely a foreign country may be to put a stop to the situation and stop protecting the abducting parent.
Finally, it may be helpful to commence some kind of legal action in a U.S. court against the other parent. In order to defend the legal action, they would have to surface and appear in front of the court. If they are ensconced in a foreign country, they will not be able to fully answer your charges against them. In that event, you are likely to get a default judgment which will make their life even more difficult if the child is returned home. By exerting legal pressure on them, you are raising the stakes for them and imposing more consequences should they persist in keeping your child away from home.