Sean Goldman case highlights rising international child abduction
The Sean Goldman case, which resolved Tuesday when a Brazil judge ordered the boy to be returned to his American dad, is one of a sharply rising number of international child abduction cases in the US.
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It’s not an abduction if a child is taken with the consent of the left-behind parent. But it is one if the abducting parent tricks the left behind parent into allowing the child to travel overseas for a short vacation in order to take them away permanently.Skip to next paragraph
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Adding new regulations such as exit controls could mitigate the problem in the US, but would come with trade offs, points out Jessica Levinson, adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles . Requiring a parent to give official written permission to the other parent to travel abroad with their minor child could potentially prevent some abduction cases, she says, but “it is not fool proof – because it may be easy to fake such documents – and it would certainly mean administrative or practical hurdles for many families.”
Complicating the custody picture in the US is the general reluctance of government to interfere in families unless there is a perception that the child is in danger, says Dianna Gould-Saltman , a partner in Gould-Saltman Law Offices LLP in Los Angeles. Moreover, unlike most countries, the US has few federal laws pertaining to child custody. Most family law is state-specific, Ms. Gould-Saltman notes, and there can be much disagreement between states.
But the US can do more to ensure parent-abductors are caught before they hit the airport, says Michael Wildes, partner at New York-based immigration law firm Wildes & Weinberg.
“We don’t have a general red alert like Interpol has and should have a domestic mechanism,” he says, adding that America should “refuse to do business with nations that don’t honor these challenges.”
What parents can do
Lawyers say there’s a lot parents can do to prevent an abduction or make it more difficult. Schmidt and other experts suggest some precautions:
• If parents are separated and international abduction is a concern, a parent with the right to custody or visitation of a child may ask the State Department to “flag” any attempt to use the child’s passport.
• A parent can register with the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, to alert them if the other parent applies for a US passport. This does not prevent a parent from applying for a passport from a foreign country, if eligible.
• If a parent suspects an abduction is about to occur, he or she can seek emergency relief from a judge to pick up the child. They can also contact the State Department Office of Children Issues, the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children, immigration and state and federal authorities and airlines to detain the abducting parent before leaving or upon entry.
• Those getting a divorce in an international marriage should make sure they have a custody decree that addresses Hague considerations and requires the foreign parent to post a significant bond before international travel.
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