Friday, October 2, 2009

U.S. Dad jailed in a custody battle - Parental Kidnapping Prevention and Remedies

This morning’s headlines shed light on one of the most frightening moments in a custody case with international ties:

An American dad is behind bars and his Japanese ex-wife is a fugitive from justice, due to an epic culture clash between Japan and the United States that is causing untold heartache for families.

While there is no one comprehensive integrated process for gathering and analyzing data and information on international child abduction cases, in 1988 family members abducted 354,100 children in the United States. (See Clearly, many of these children were removed from the country.

What does the law provide?

A. The Hague Convention

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“Hague Convention”) provides for the prompt return of wrongfully removed children. Simply put, if the child resides in a member country, the member country will return the child. The Hague Convention is not in effect in Japan because they chose not to participate in the treaty. (For a list of the 48 Countries that participate in the Hague Convention, visit:

B. Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (“PKPA”)

The PKPA provides that a felony warrant may be issued for parental kidnapping cases.

C. International Parental Kidnapping Crime ACT (“IPKCA”)

The IPKCA criminalizes international parental kidnapping and categorizes the crime as a federal felony.

Preventing International Child Abduction

A. The importance of a Custody Judgment

Courts speak through their Orders. A Custody Judgment or decree is an Order of the Court which sets forth the rights of the parents. In most cases, in order to obtain relief from parental abduction, there must be a custody judgment or decree setting forth the rights of the parents. A well-drafted custody and parenting time judgment may be the most important line of defense against international child abduction. For example, in high risk for abduction cases, a lawyer should draft the Judgment with appropriate safeguards such as a prohibition on international travel, supervised parenting time or avoid a joint custody order.

B. Make a record: Keep a list of addresses and telephone numbers of the other parent’s relatives, friends, and business associates. In addition, keep a record of the other parent's passport, social security number, bank accounts and physical characteristics.

C. Images and descriptions: Keep an updated photograph/video and description of your child (preferably every six months), include fingerprints and any special characteristics in your file.

D. Passport Issuance Alert Program: Federal Law requires the signature of both parents when obtaining a passport for a minor child. Notwithstanding, the State Department has implemented a Passport Issuance Alert Program which raises places the government on alert if a passport application is made for the minor child.

E. Be aware of “red flags”, such as:

  • No strong ties to the United States;
  • Friends or family living out of the Country;
  • Limited financial reasons to stay in the United States;
  • Quit his/her job, closed bank accounts (planning activities);
  • A history of marital instability;
  • Prior criminal records.

Child Abduction is a tragedy that can sometimes be prevented. If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact me.