High-Profile Parental Child Kidnapping Cases Bring Hague Convention to Forefront

The international parental child kidnapping case involving American David Goldman and his Brazilian wife, Bruna, quickly exploded into the mainstream media. It also caught the attention of members at the highest level of the Obama administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Attorney Irene King, a partner at Charlotte, N.C.-based law firm James, McElroy & Diehl, P.A., believes the high-profile status of the New Jersey/Brazil case creates important awareness for international child-snatching cases.

“International kidnapping and custody cases are becoming more prevalent,” says King, who provides legal representation to parents involved in international parental child abduction cases. “With a rise in dual-nationality marriages and the ease of international travel, parents need to know their rights and how to protect their children from a potential abduction.”

Parental kidnapping is the abduction and/or concealment of a child without the consent of the other parent. It is a federal crime that jeopardizes children, and has substantial long-term effects on both the abducted child and the family members left behind.

According to the U.S. State Department, current trends reflect a steady increase in the number of international parental child abduction cases. During the fiscal year 2008, the Office of Children’s Issues of the U.S. State Department was notified of 1,082 new international parental child abduction cases (up from 642 in 2006) involving 1,615 children taken from the United States.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, developed in the early 1980s, is a multilateral treaty between 81 international states requiring the immediate return of children who have been wrongfully removed from, or retained outside of, their country of “habitual residence.” The Hague Convention was ratified in the United States in July 1988.

Abduction cases involve situations where a parent absconds with a child without the consent of the other parent, as well as instances where a child visits a foreign country with both parents’ approval, but is then retained in a foreign country by the parent with whom the child is traveling.

King explains, “While the Hague Convention is designed to ensure that signatories to the treaty cooperate with one another to facilitate a prompt return of abducted children, parents must be armed with information prior to any abduction. International abduction cases rely heavily on fact, not on assumed logic.”

Parents should be aware of the possibility of abduction and be prepared, especially in cases where children have dual nationality. The State Department suggests keeping a record of important information on the other parent, including a list of the addresses and telephone numbers of relatives and friends both here and abroad, and a list of the following numbers: passport, social security, bank account, driver’s license and auto license.

Other Preventative Measures:
Two Parent Signature Law for a Passport: While the United States does not have control over children who already have a valid passport, there are laws in place requiring the signature of both parents when anyone under the age of 16 applies for a passport.

Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program: The State Department’s Children’s Passport Insurance Program enables the State Department to alert you or your attorney if an application for a U.S. passport for your child is received anywhere in the United States or at any U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

Well-written custody decree: In many U.S. states and foreign countries, unless there is a legal custody decree in place, both parents may be considered to have equal custody. In the instance of separating or divorced parents – even if you were never legally married to the other parent – you should have a custody decree that clearly states your child is prohibited from traveling without the permission of both parents.