For most parents, their worst nightmare is to not know where their child is or to know that their child has been kidnapped. Consequently, we teach our children about ‘stranger danger,’ monitor their Internet activities, and take care to know where they are going and who they are supposed to be with. While these safety-conscious behaviors are good and do promote children’s safety, the sad truth is that the overwhelming majority of child abductions are committed by someone known to the child, such as a family friend or a relative. Unfortunately, it is often a parent, upset with a custody arrangement or displeased with how a co-custodial parent is raising the child, who perpetrates this crime.
Below, we will discuss steps for preventing parental abduction of a child within or from Massachusetts during a custody dispute as well as steps that may be taken to recover a child if the worst happens.
Steps for Prevention
Before involving a court, there are a few steps you can take to help your child protect himself or herself, both in issues of parental abduction and other inappropriate behavior by adults.
First, you can make sure your child knows his or her personal info as well as yours. Teach your child to approach an authority figure, such as a police officer or firefighter, in an emergency.
Second, institute a “no secrets” policy for your family. Teach your child that adults should not ask him or her to keep secrets, such as plans for a “vacation” or “early pick-up from school” that are in fact a forewarning of parental abduction.
If you suspect the other parent is planning to remove the children in violation of a custody agreement, it is time to involve the courts. Massachusetts General Law Section 26A defines abduction by a parent or other relative as:
“[when the relative of a minor], without lawful authority, holds or intends to hold such a child permanently or for a protracted period, or takes or entices such a child from his lawful custodian, or takes or entices from lawful custody any incompetent person or other person entrusted by authority of law to the custody of another person or institution”
If you are concerned that your co-parent is going to abduct your child, you can ask for an emergency custody order from the court. Such an order may severely limit the other parent’s access to your child or children. This may include mandating supervised visitation or explicitly bar that parent from removing your children from the commonwealth.
If the Worst Happens
Contact the police as soon as you suspect the other parent has abducted your child or children. Then, contact your family law attorney, who can help you obtain relief through the courts.
If there is an existing child custody court order, you or your lawyer can file a petition to hold the other parent in contempt and modify the order in your favor. If no order exists, you can file to establish custody.
While Massachusetts is the only state not to recognize the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) of 1980 is a federal law that requires states to recognize and enforce other states’ custody orders, so long as that state had standing to issue the orders. If your child is taken from Massachusetts to Connecticut, for example, a Connecticut court can order the other parent to return the child in accordance with the Massachusetts court order.
Protecting Your Children
The thought of losing one’s child to abduction, even if by the other parent, is a horrifying one. However, if you have substantive fears that this may occur, based on your co-parent’s prior behavior, character, or stated plans, do not wait. You need to involve the courts. You need experienced family law attorneys to help protect your children. Don’t hesitate. Call our office today.