Steps to Protect Your Children from International Abduction
Often the most contentious aspect of divorce is child custody. Parents
play a courtroom tug-of-war over how to split custody, restrict travel,
and set the parameters of visitations. If the couple is international,
one parent from one country and the other from a different country, it
can grow even more complicated as parents wrestle with issues of
mistrust and fear of international parental child abduction.
Fortunately, 94 countries belong to the Hague Convention of
International Child Abduction, which allows for judicial and
administrative cooperation between countries regarding the protection
of children. There are policies in place in the United States to both
prevent parental child abduction and to return abducted children.
The best way to deter international parental child abduction in the U.S. is to enroll the child in the Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP)
It is a powerful tool used in the prevention of abduction; if anyone
applies for a passport in the child's name, the Department of State
contacts the parent(s) or guardian(s) to alert them to the application
of their registered child. Either parent or guardian, law enforcement,
courts, members of Congress, or even other family members may request
that a child be enrolled in the program.
To request entry for a child in CPIAP, download and fill out Form DS-3077
and e-mail it to PreventAbduction@state.gov. The form can also be
mailed, but the Office of Children's Issues prefers e-mail to get the
child's name registered expeditiously. You will also need to submit a
copy of your government issued identification, and a copy of a birth
certificate or other official document establishing your relationship
to the child. Understand that registration of your child in the CPIAP
does not guarantee that he or she won't receive a passport, but rather
that you will receive an alert, so that you have an opportunity to
What about if your child already has a passport?
Things get a
little trickier. You can still request entry in the alert program, but
you will only receive an alert if an application is made for a passport
renewal. Children's passports are valid for five years. If your child
is in the middle of that cycle, you can see where there is a hole in
Another problem is that many children hold dual nationality
in the U.S. and another country by virtue of either birthplace or
parentage. The U.S. cannot prevent another country from issuing your
child a passport or insist they alert you. You can ask a foreign
embassy or consulate in the U.S. not to issue your child a passport to
their country, but there's no law in place compelling them to honor
your request. If your child is only a U.S. citizen, you can request the
foreign embassy not issue a visa to your child, but again, they are not
compelled to comply.
What you can do to strengthen your position if you are in these circumstances is to be sure that when you negotiate custody terms
in the divorce process that the decree includes a statement saying
written permission must be obtained before your child can travel. You
can also request that the court or a third party, such as an attorney,
keep your child's passport.
It is important to present the foreign embassy or consulate
with certified copies of the court order that addresses the custody and
overseas travel of your child along with a written request preventing
your child's travel. Make the embassy aware that you are sending
identical documents to the U.S. Department of State. These steps could
compel them to comply voluntarily.
If you are concerned about the safety and security of your
child during visits and fear he or she may be abducted by the other
parent, minimize the risk by utilizing these protections put in place
by the U.S. State Department and your local family court, and adhering
to the following important guidelines.
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- Get a detailed custody order that protects your parental rights
- Make sure the details of your custody order include: specifics
regarding dates of visits, relocation restrictions, supervised visit
specifications, requirement for court approval to take the child out of
the state or country, and requirement for the court or third party to
hold the child's passport
- Evaluate the wisdom of joint-custody arrangements with an attorney prior to an agreement
- Contact the foreign embassy of the other country and learn about that country's passport requirements for minors
- Keep your contact information current on the CPIAP to ensure receipt of alerts
- Do not ignore abduction threats; file copies of restraining orders with local police, and alert them to threats
- Watch for warning signs from your ex-spouse like selling a house,
quitting a job, closing accounts, all indicators of an intention to
leave the country
- If you think your child has been taken by the other parent, act
immediately; make a police report and ask that your child be entered
into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system
- Contact the U.S. Department of State who can work with law
enforcement to prevent your child's departure, work with overseas
embassies to prevent your child's entry, and facilitate communication
with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)