A divorced California parent who is worried that the estranged spouse has or is planning on taking their child out of the country in violation of a custody order may want to get some information regarding the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. More than 90 countries are signatories to the treaty that attempts to protect children and the parent who has legal custody. The United States is a signatory, but if the country to which a child has been taken is not, the situation is more difficult.
There are several terms that must be defined under the Hague Convention. For example, a petition must be filed in the country where the child is considered “habitually resident.” Another term is “wrongful removal.” This is loosely interpreted, and if a parent takes action that make it appear they might abduct the child, this may be considered wrongful removal prior to a custody order. However, it is better if a parent can get a custody order before filing a petition.
A parent accused of abducting a child internationally may challenge a petition if there is grave danger to the child or if the parent who filed the petition did not have custody rights. In some cases, the child may be considered old enough to have a say in the matter.
Dealing with cases involving a post-divorce wrongful removal can be complex and emotionally trying. A parent in such a situation may want to speak to a family law attorney to see what recourse is available. Depending on how the case unfolds in another country, it is sometimes also worthwhile having political assistance. There are provisions that can be written into a parenting plan to help prevent an international abduction if a parent fears that this is a possibility. For example, one parent will be unable to get a passport for the child without the approval of the other parent.