Do you have reason to believe that your spouse, partner, or third party may take your child to a foreign country and not come back? As a parent, you have the right to restrict where and when any party may travel with your child. Florida courts, international treaties, and government agencies have come up with initiatives to stop child abduction and protect your family.
The initial step in safeguarding your child should be to petition a Florida court for a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a document that is developed by the parents of a minor child and approved or established by the court, which governs the relationship between the parents regarding the child. The parenting plan governs issues such as the education, health care, and extracurricular activities of the child. The parenting plan MUST include a timesharing schedule that will specify the time, including overnights and holidays, which the minor child will spend with each parent.
In Florida, where there is parenting plan and a party has presented competent substantial evidence that there is a risk that the other party may remove the child from his state or country, may conceal the whereabouts of the child, or if the court finds evidence that establishes credible risk of removal of the child, the court may order some restrictions on the other party. See 61.45(1) Florida Statute. For example, the court may order that a parent may not remove the child from the state or country without written permission of both parents or further court order. The Court may also limit which countries the parent may travel to with the child and can order that the parent surrenders the child’s US and foreign passports.
You should also consider registering the minor child in the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program and the Prevent Departure Program of the United States Department of State. The Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, allows a parent to register their minor US citizen child with the State Department’s passport lockout system. This will provide the parent with advance warning of possible plans to travel internationally with the child. The parent will then have an allotted period of time to consent or object to the issuance of a US passport to their minor child. Where the child has dual nationality, it will be necessary to contact the local embassy or consulate for guidance. The Prevent Departure Program was created to stop aliens (non US citizens) from departing the United States if his or her departure would not be in the interest of the US. Where the abductor and child are identified they will not be allowed to leave the country. Please note this program is not available to US citizen children.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOUR CHILD IS ALREADY OVERSEAS AND THE OTHER PARENT OR THIRD PARTY IS THREATENING NOT TO RETURN TO FLORIDA?
Unfortunately, a great number of parents are taken off guard. The child has already been taken to another country and it is too late to take preventative measures.
A number of countries have signed and ratified the Hague Convention of the Civil Aspect of International Child Abduction. Its objective is to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or detained in any contracting country and to ensure the right rights of custody and of access are respected. The convention applies to any child under the age of 16 who has habitually resided in a contracting state immediately before any breach of custody or access rights. Each contracting state designates a Central Authority to discharge the duties imposed by the Convention. Please take note that where a country is not a signatory or a contract state, the convention does not apply.
Where the Convention does not apply or the contracting state is not being cooperative, as a parent, you can also bring a custody suit in the country where your child is currently located, bring criminal charges in the child’s country of habitual residence and/or the country that the child was abducted to.
It is important to open a case with the State Department’s Parental Child Abduction office. They will be able to provide country specific information. The office is prepared to help you filing an application to countries that are signatories of the Hague Convention. They can also provide guidance in cases your child is abducted to a country to is not a signatory to the Hague Convention.
You may also contact your local police and file a missing person’s report, and request that your child’s name be entered into the National Criminal Information Center. However, please take note that filing criminal charges against the abductor may have an unintended effect on regaining possession of your child. Courts in some countries including the US have denied the return of the child solely because the parent would be arrested if they accompanied the child home. The arrest of the parent is also considered psychological harm to the child.