Emergency Child Custody

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Serious issues can arise with child custody. The state often leaves much of the decisions about custody up to the parents, unless there is abuse, or other potentially dangerous behavior involved. If your spouse is abusive, either to you or the children, or if your spouse acts in a neglectful manner or in a potentially dangerous way towards the children, you must have documentation to help protect your child custody rights.  A few things that will help provide proof may include:

  • Report the abuse to the police
  • Take out a restraining order
  • Enlist the help of friends or relatives who may have witnessed the abuse or neglect
  • Keep notes about every incident, and the dates and times they occurred
  • Hire a private investigator to obtain video footage of neglect, such as leaving the child in a car alone, or home alone without proper supervision

Effect of Disputes on Children

High-conflict custody disputes are likely to produce a range of symptoms in children.  These can include regression, lapses in toilet training, fearfulness, clinging, withdrawal, depression, and anxiety.  Provocative or aggressive sexual behavior, or overtly sexual behavior is not common in divorce.  However, it is common to sexual abuse.  Psychological evaluation can help to determine if a child has been the victim of sexual abuse.  While the evaluation cannot always determine if sexual abuse has occurred, it may provide useful information to assist the court in deciding if the custody and/or visitation order needs to be modified.

Parental Kidnapping

Parental kidnapping is when one parent takes the children and refuses to return them.  If  you do not have a court ordered custody decision, parental kidnapping in the eyes of the law is not valid.  Parents are viewed as having equal rights to the child and either can go wherever they choose, and when they want at any time with the child.  If one parent removes the child to a second or unknown location, in order to deny visitation of the other parent, even without a standing custody decision, it is considered parental kidnapping.   Recent statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that there were more than 350,000 parental abductions within a period of one year.

Moves without Notification

If a parent moves to another state or location with the child, after notifying the other parent, this is not considered kidnapping.  However, moving without notification can be considered kidnapping if there is a custody and visitation order in place which gives both parents access to the child.

Failure to return a child after their scheduled visitation or failure to produce a child for visitation with a parent is not considered kidnapping.  This is seen as the crime of interference with custody if there is a court order regarding custody currently in place.  In many cases, this is known as “contempt of court” and allows the parent to file a “Motion to Show Cause for Contempt of Court”.  In some states, if a parent does not return the child after visitation and the custodial parent has demanded return of the child, they have 48 hours in which to do so.

Why Might a Parent Kidnap a Child?

Disagreement With Custody Order

Parental kidnapping is often done to interfere with the other parent’s contact with the child.  Family abductions are usually carried out by parents who are involved in a dispute over custody of the child.  Sometimes a parent who loses custody may feel as if they didn’t get a fair hearing in court.  They may decide to overrule a custody order by kidnapping the child to enforce what they perceive as the correct custody decision.  They take or keep the child, ignoring the rights of the other parent.  In many cases, this can end up harming the child if they are forced to live life on the run.  Being cut off from family and friends makes the situation worse.

Fear of Harm To Child

Some parents kidnap their children in order to protect them from harm by the other parent.  Their reasons may include allegations of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.  In many cases, these allegations are proven false and are meant the destroy the reputation of the accused.  These often bring a stigma that can alienate the parent from their friends, co-workers, and family members. 

Revenge Against The Other Parent

Often times, one parent may kidnap the child as revenge against the other parent.  This usually has nothing to do with what is best for the children and is done by an angry parent looking to get even.   A jealous parent may use this tactic to sabotage the child’s relationship with the other parent.  An abducting parent views the child’s needs as secondary to the parental agenda which is to provoke, agitate, control, attack or psychologically torture the other parent.

Many children are told that the other parent is dead or no longer loves them. While they are taken away and hidden from family and friends, abducted children may have their names and appearances altered and may be told not to reveal their true identities or circumstances.   These children suffer great emotional harm and may experience a variety of emotions including; depression, anxiety, fear of abandonment, anger, loneliness, excessive fearfulness, and loss of trust and stability.  Because of the harmful effects on children, parental kidnapping has been characterized as a form of child abuse.

Preventing Parental Kidnapping

The best way to deal with child-snatching is to prevent it from happening in the first place.  Many abductions occur right before or right after a custody decision.  Being prepared is your best defense. If you fear that the other parent will take your children away without your consent, you can ask the judge to issue an emergency custody order, which most states provide.  You can request that the order include a stipulation that the other parent cannot take the children out of the state, or that they only be allowed supervised visitation.

If you are the custodial parent, make sure that school authorities, daycare personnel or anyone else that has access to your child, has a copy of the custody orders.  They can be given explicit instructions not to release the child or any records of the child to the non-custodial parent.  Any friend or relative who supports or helps a parent in hiding a child should be made aware that their actions can be seen as criminal liability if they aid and abet a felony.

Warning Signs to Watch Out For

Although there are no foolproof warning signs or psychological profiles for abduction risk, there are some indicators that should not be ignored:

  • Parent has threatened to abduct the child on previous occasion
  • Parent has no strong ties to the child’s home state
  • Citizenship in another country and family ties to their country or origin
  • Friends and family living out of state or abroad
  • No financial reason to stay in current area; e.g. unemployed, able to take a job anywhere, or financially independent
  • Recently sold a home, quit a job, closed bank accounts or liquidated assets
  • History of mental instability, domestic violence or child abuse
  • Prior criminal record

When factors are present which may indicate a heightened risk of kidnapping, you should contact your attorney to petition the court for safeguards appropriate to your specific case.

In the Event of Parental Kidnapping

In 1980, the federal government enacted the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) to address interstate custody issues.  This Act mandates that state authorities give full faith and credit to the other states’ custody orders, so long as those were made in conformity with the provisions of the PKPA.  Under the PKPA, home state jurisdiction is the preferred basis of initial jurisdiction.  Home state is defined as the location where the child has resided for the past six months or longer.

Report The Child Missing

The first thing you should do is report the child missing and file a Missing Persons Report with local law enforcement.  Make sure to have a copy of your current custody orders with you to show the police.

Get Your Attorney Involved

Contact your attorney and request that a felony warrant be obtained against the kidnapper.  Have your lawyer initiate a contempt proceeding and file

for custody in your home state of jurisdiction.  Request that the Federal Parent Locator Service be used to track down the missing parent.  They can access information form outside sources, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), and the FBI.

Contact Friends and Family

Call everyone that has had recent contact with your ex-partner.  This may include family members, friends, neighbors, and their employer.  Make sure that they understand this is a criminal offense and if they withhold information, they can be held liable for aiding in felony kidnapping.  They can even be charged with conspiracy.  Contact your ex-partner’s attorney.  Courts have compelled attorneys to disclose their clients’ whereabouts in child abduction cases.

National Child Search Assistance Act

The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 requires each federal, state, and local law-enforcement agency to enter information about missing children, younger than the age of 18, into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.  The Act also establishes state reporting requirements.  With the addition of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, law enforcement must enter the information into the NCIC database within two hours of receipt of the report.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)

Contact NCMEC to report the missing child and request all available assistance.  Request their free copy of booklets to that give advice on child abduction.  They can identify non-profit groups that provide emotional support and guidance to parents of abducted children.

International Kidnapping

Local law enforcement can report the child as missing to INTERPOL.  If the child has been taken or kept abroad, contact the local FBI office.  They have jurisdiction to investigate alleged violations of the federal International Parental Kidnapping crime Act (IPKCA).  Contact the U.S State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues which has useful information, including an “International Parental Child Abduction Booklet” which contains useful information regarding international kidnapping.

Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

It has been established by researchers that there is a link between domestic violence and child abuse.  Even if children are witnesses to acts of violence and not the intended targets, they can be affected in the same manner as children who are physically and sexually abused.  Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior, not a single event.  Episodes may become more sever and frequent over time.  There is an increased likelihood that the children eventually become victims as well.  Investigators consider domestic violence as child maltreatment and it is your responsibility as a parent to protect the children from the long-term effects of domestic violence by getting out of the situation.

Child abuse and child neglect cover a variety of forms of injury and cruelty to children.  These include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, endangerment and abandonment.  Child abuse happens in many different ways, but the result is the same causing physical or emotional harm leaving deep and long-lasting scars. 

Many physically abusive parents insist that their actions are a form of disciplines to make their children learn how to behave.  There is a huge difference between giving a child a swat on the butt and twisting the child’s arm until it breaks.

One of the most painful effects of child abuse is its tendency to repeat itself.  One out of every three abused or neglected children will grow up to become an abusive parent.  The earlier abused children get help, the greater the chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle. 

If Your Child is Subject to Abuse

As the parent, you are responsible for what happens to your child, even if you aren’t the one who actually committed the abuse.  If you are a victim of spousal abuse, you need to get help immediately.  There are a variety of resources that can help you.  Start by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7223) or 1-800-3224.  They can provide crisis intervention, information and referrals for victims of domestic violence.

Signs of Child Abuse

Learn how to spot the signs of physical abuse of children such as unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.  Look for injuries that appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.  A child’s clothing may be inappropriate for the weather such as heavy, long-sleeved pants and shirts on hot days that may be covering up injuries.

Signs of sexual abuse may include bloody or torn underclothes, swelling or bleeding in the genital area, or trouble sitting or standing.  They may appear to avoid another person, or display unusual behavior.  Older child might resort to destructive behavior to mask the pain by using alcohol or drugs or self-mutilation and even attempt suicide.

If they are a victim of neglect, the child may look dirty or appear to have consistently bad hygiene, such as matted and unwashed hair, or noticeable body odor.  Untreated illnesses and physical injuries are also signs of neglect.

A common reaction to news regarding child abuse is denial.  You should remain calm and reassuring if your child begins talking to you about abuse.  The child is looking for you to provide help and support.  Let the child explain in her or her own words what happened and don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions.  Reassure him or her that you take them seriously and that it is not their fault.

If a child is in immediate danger or has been severely injured, call 911 or other emergency services.  When you suspect a child is, or at risk of being abused, it is important to take action.  Contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).  Your local hospital may help connect you to local resources.  Many hospitals have programs specifically related to child abuse and maltreatment.

Leaving an abusive marriage is never easy and should be done with the help of a counselor and/or legal advice to ensure the safety of both you and your children.  There are many resources that can assist by providing temporary shelter, free counseling and financial aid.  Do not stay in an abusive situation and protect your children at all costs.

Protective Orders

An Order For Protection (OFP) is a court order that will help to protect you from domestic abuse. This tells the abuser to stop harming or threatening you, your children, and to cease contact with you at home and at work, and at your children’s school or daycare facility.  A federal law makes it a crime for a person to posses guns if they have an Order For Protection against them.  If the abuser owns or has guns, in your petition, you should ask the court to order the abuser to turn all guns over to the police.

The four types of court orders are:

Protection Order

This is a civil order for victims of domestic violence in which the court instructs the abuser who threatened or assaulted you, not to harm you again.  This can be done at any local court.

No Contact Order

This is a criminal order for victims of domestic violence, after criminal charges have been filed against the abuser.  Once the police have responded to a 911 call and taken a report, this is forwarded to  the Prosecutor.  No Contact Orders are requested by the Prosecutor when they are concerned about your safety.

Restraining Order

This is a civil order that can be issued along with divorce, legal separation or child custody case.  This prohibits someone from contacting another person, or committing a violent act.  It can also order the person to stay away from you or to move out of your house.  Additionally, it can be used to obtain temporary custody of your children.  You can obtain a restraining order by yourself, but it’s best to contact an attorney to ensure your legal rights are protected.  This needs be filed in Superior Court.

Anti-Harassment Order

This is a civil court order that is filed by an individual who has been annoyed or harassed by another person.  This prevents the harasser from contacting you, coming to your home or place of work.

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