Relocation and other custody issues are not limited to the continental United States. Parents may also face serious disputes over child custody that involve removing a child or keeping them in another country.
Under federal law, a parent cannot obstruct another parent's custody rights by taking a child from the United States or keeping the child in another country. This federal crime, "international parental kidnapping," is punishable by up to three years imprisonment.
International abduction may occur during a contentious or emotional marriage dispute, in the early part of a separation or divorce or during the waiting time for a custody order or agreement. Children may be moved to numerous locations to be kept hidden or away from parents in the United States. Federal law allows prosecutors to investigate and prosecute parents who kidnap children. The Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section assists U.S. Attorneys on international parental kidnapping prosecutions.
The return of children is often settled through negotiation. The U.S. Department of State coordinates efforts with foreign officials and law enforcement. The Hague Convention can assist the return of abducted children if the other country is a signatory to that treaty.
Parents, however, risk criminal charges and complicate the situation if they do not follow legal procedures and act on their own when seeking the return of their abducted child. The parent who kidnapped the child may have obtained a custody order in another country and returning the child could result in a foreign arrest or prosecution. This could also obstruct efforts under the Hague Convention.
These abductions may have serious consequences for children who are often removed from a familiar environment and taken away from their school, family and friends. They may be moved to numerous locations and their name, birth date and even their physical appearance are changed to hide their identity.
They face possible psychological problems, eating disorders, nightmares, mood swings and sleep problems.