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How To Protect Against International Parental Kidnapping

By Melissa G. Nolan

Divorce presents many serious issues, particularly when children are involved. International parental kidnapping is one such potential issue. The threat of international parental kidnapping exists in any divorce, but obviously, the threat is more realistic if one parent has easy access to, and resources in, a foreign country. Given the extreme difficulty a parent may encounter trying to get his or her child returned from a foreign country, the U.S. citizen parent should take all possible steps to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Although there is no way to prevent a parent from taking a child to a foreign country, there are some steps which a U.S. citizen spouse can do to make it less of a possibility.

First, and most obviously, the U.S. citizen parent should try to maintain as good of a relationship as possible with his or her ex-spouse. The more hostile the relationship is, the more likely the ex-spouse is to try to leave the U.S. with the children.

Second, the U.S. citizen spouse may want to consider assisting with the ex-spouse’s immigration process. After a divorce, the non-U.S. citizen may be left without lawful immigration status in the U.S. His or her ability to remain may depend on his or her ability to persuade the U.S. Government that although the couple is no longer married, they married in good faith and maintained a bona fide relationship. With the U.S. citizen’s cooperation, this task may be made easier. Without that cooperation, the non-U.S. citizen may be unable to persuade the Government that the marriage was genuine. The result could be removal from the U.S. Although the U.S. citizen may have bitter feelings towards the ex-spouse and may be tempted to make the immigration process more difficult rather than less, doing so may increase the chances of international parental kidnapping.

Third, the U.S. citizen parent could take steps during the custody proceeding to make it more difficult for the children to leave the U.S. For example, the family court should require each minor’s passport to be held by a third party, such as the GAL. The court should set out the conditions under which the third party may release the passport to a parent. The other parent would be required to consent in writing to the travel.

Fourth, the U.S. citizen must be sure to understand whether the child potentially could be a citizen of another country, and whether the child would be eligible for a passport of that country. Keeping the U.S. passport secured does not provide sufficient protection if the foreign national parent can obtain a different passport for the child, and travel outside the U.S. with that passport.

Divorce and international kidnapping are troubling realities. Although divorce requires attention on numerous financial and emotional issues, the potential for international kidnapping cannot be ignored, particularly when the spouses possess passports from different countries. Consider the steps described in this article and consult with your attorney for additional information in order to protect the children involved.


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