International parental kidnapping occurs when a child is removed from the United States with the purpose of interfering with the other parent’s custodial rights. The federal law governing this issue, 18 U.S.C. §1204, defines child as a minor less than sixteen (16) years old and specifies that parental rights includes any custody rights (sole, joint, visitation) whether existing by court order, prior agreement or operation of law. There are affirmative defenses under the law which would consider if removal is pursuant to a court order, for the purpose of escaping domestic violence, or of a temporary emergency nature. Sanctions for parents found to be guilty of international kidnapping include imprisonment for up to three years.
Return of the child may be arranged through the Hague Convention of the foreign country is a signatory to the convention. Otherwise, the U.S. Department of State will try negotiation with the foreign country in an attempt to secure return of the child. With regards to U.S. custody orders, it’s good practice to provide that international travel may only be by written consent of both parties or court order. Parties should pay attention to which country the other parent intends to travel to and whether that country belongs to the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and would recognize a U.S. custody order if necessary. Additional information on international child abduction is available through the U.S. Department of State website below.
U.S. Department of State: International Child Abduction