International Parental Abduction: Laws and Tips

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 02, 2009 12:03 PM

In a long-running dispute, a Brazilian court has ruled in favor of a New Jersey father trying to get his 8-year old son, Sean Goldman, back to the United States. David Goldman's efforts to regain custody of Sean started after David and his then-wife Bruna Goldman traveled to Brazil with their son. It was then that she allegedly disappeared with Sean and told David she wanted a divorce (and obviously custody). She succeeded in obtaining them in Brazilian courts, but Bruna passed away in childbirth last August.

It was then that David renewed his efforts to regain custody of Sean, while Sean's stepfather allegedly took such steps as having David's name removed from the birth certificate in Brazil (despite the fact he was born in New Jersey). Well, finally, apparently with high profile, e.g. Hillary Clinton, and media help, David appears to have succeeded. So what happens if a parent wrongfully removes a child out of state, or worse yet, the country?

Some people might think "abduction" is a strong word to use for a parent taking their own child elsewhere, but the fact is that when a parent moves or keeps a child out-of-state without permission, that can be parental child abduction, and they may be committing a crime under state and perhaps federal laws. Here in the United States, local authorities and the FBI can help parents with custody recover children that have been wrongfully removed out-of-state, and the offending parents can actually be held liable for the associated costs.

On the international stage, there actually is international law protecting the rights of parents in the same circumstances. It's called, brace yourselves, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. That's not a particularly friendly one to type, much less read, so let's just call it the Hague Convention for short.

The Hague Convention is actually a treaty signed by various nations, including the United States (both countries need to have signed for the treaty to apply, check here for signatory countries). The treaty provides a method and procedure for parents to obtain the return of their wrongfully removed children. A removal is generally considered wrongful under the Hague Convention if it is done without the consent of a custodial parent, and in breach of their custody rights. A child is considered "removed" if they are taken out of the country they habitually lived in up until that point.

Parents who believe their child has been wrongfully taken out of the country, or kept out of the country, should not waste any time in contacting a local attorney experienced in handling these types of cases. As can perhaps sadly be seen from the Goldman case, time is definitely of the essence in making these claims. Below are some helpful resources on the topics discussed.