Child abduction is a serious problem. Studies have shown that more than 200,000 children are abducted in the United States each year by a parent or family member. Colorado has adopted the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act to deter a parent from taking and hiding a child during the pendency of a divorce or after losing the custody of the child in a final decree of dissolution.
All agree that preventing an abduction is in the child’s best interests. Abducted children may suffer long-lasting harm and it is considered child abuse. Many abductions occur before a court has had the opportunity to enter a child-custody determination, when men are more likely to abduct the child. Women are more likely to abduct a child after a child custody determination.
Post-decree abductions often occur because the existing child-custody orders lack sufficient protections to prevent an abduction. For example a child-custody order could award joint physical custody but without a designation of specific times of physical custody of the child. Or the order could grant “reasonable visitation” without specificity. The lack of restrictions on custody and visitation make child-custody orders very difficult to enforce.
If an abduction occurs after a child-custody determination, all states have remedies for enforcement of the custody order. While there is no federal law criminalizing interstate parental kidnapping, there is a mechanism for apprehending persons who violate state parental kidnapping laws and travel across state lines. If the abduction is international, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, currently in effect between the United States and fifty-five countries, facilitates the return of an abducted child to the child’s habitual residence. However, many countries are not part of this treaty system and will not comply with the treaty obligations to return children.
While laws in the states and internationally may protect children abducted from their custodial parent, laws in many states did not apply to an abduction that occurred during the pendency of a dissolution proceeding and before final orders of child custody had been entered. The Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act fills the void and addresses pre-decree and intrastate cases as well as to emergency situations and to cases in which risk factors exist and the current child-custody determination lacks sufficient abduction prevention measures. The Act identifies circumstances that indicate a risk of abduction and provides measures to the courts to prevent the abduction of children, pre-decree or post-decree.
As part of Colorado law, the Act allows the custodial parent to file a petition for entry of an “abduction prevention order” if, after review of the evidence, the court finds a credible risk of abduction of the child. The order will provide measures and conditions that are reasonably calculated to prevent the abduction of the child, giving due consideration to the custody and visitation rights of the parties and the child-custody determinations in effect at the time of the filing of the petition. The abduction prevention order may include any of the following provisions:
- An imposition of travel restrictions, including a limited geographical area, the travel itinerary and copies of all travel documents
- A prohibition of removal of the child from the state or other geographic area without the court’s permission
- A prohibition of removing the child from school or a child-care facility
- Restrictions on the child’s passport and international travel only when reporting to the United States Department of State Office of Children’s Issues
If a person files for entry of an “abduction prevention order” but the court decides not to order restrictive measures or conditions, the court can still enter a clarifying order making more specific the existing child-custody determination.
A parent entering a dissolution proceeding in court who is concerned about the other parent abducting the child during or after the proceeding should retain a competent and experienced family law attorney. The experienced family law attorneys at Clawson & Clawson LLP are familiar with these heart-breaking situations and will assist the concerned parent through the court process to do all that is possible to ensure that the child will not be one of the unfortunate children who are abducted by a non-custodial parent.