A Child Abduction or Parental Kidnapping occurs when a parent violates a Court Order. Ordinarily, parents who have no court orders that define where the child lives and what kind of parenting time either parent has will not be impacted when a parent violates an informal agreement between the parties. The importance of having parenting agreements approved by a judge is vital, so that if a parent violates the parenting agreement, the guilty parent can be held responsible per the orders of the court.
There are specific state and federal laws that apply to child abductions and parental kidnapping: Uniform Child Custody Judicial Enforcement Act; International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act; The Fugitive Felon Act; Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; International Child Abduction Remedies Act, etc. A critical provision of federal law concerning interstate and custody determinations and disputes can be found in the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA). The applicable Colorado law is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJEA), which can be found in the Colorado Revised Statutes in Title 14.
Without orders from a judge that spell out parenting time and other necessary provisions, a Colorado court will not be able to assist you if there is a child abduction or parental kidnapping. Here is an example: Beth and Tom have two (2) children but were never married to one another. Beth and Tom never had any court ordered parenting orders to address parenting time and/or child support because as Beth said, “they always agreed about the kids and got along.” Tom was named on both children's birth certificates and the parents always made decisions affecting the children, jointly. Beth had always been the primary parent while she lived in Denver and Tom had parenting time every other weekend from Fridays after school until he dropped the children off at school on Monday mornings. When the children reached the age of 6 and 8, Beth met Bob who was living and working in Arizona. Beth and Bob became involved in a serious relationship and Bob invited Beth and the children to move in with him, in his Flagstaff house, while the kids were on their Christmas break from school. When Tom called the children to wish them a Merry Christmas, he was told by one of the children that they had packed up all of their things and were now living in Arizona. When Tom found out that his children were living somewhere else, he contacted Beth who refused to respond to phone calls, text messages or Tom's emails. Later that day, Tom made a 911 call to the Denver Police Department to report that his kids had been abducted. The police officer met with Tom and said that there was nothing that they could do because this was a civil matter, and police only investigated crimes. The officer told Tom he should get a real good custody lawyer. The following day, Tom made an appointment to immediately see a Family Law Attorney, and was told that since no parenting orders existed, the only thing that could be done was for him to file an Allocation of Parental Responsibilities case in the District Court where the children had last lived in Colorado. Tom's lawyer also told him that Colorado was the children's “Home State,” and that he would have to file an action before he could expect to have his parenting rights enforced. It was at that moment that Tom found out that his plans to take the children skiing in Vail over the second half of their Christmas break was not going to happen. Because of the congestion of the court's docket, Tom had to wait more than 6 weeks to have a Temporary Orders Hearing before the judge. At the Temporary Orders hearing, the judge noted Beth's role as the children's primary parent since the children's births, and allowed the children to stay in Arizona, thus making Tom's every other weekend parenting time moot. Tom was not happy with this recent turn of events and ultimately ran out of money to fight for custody and agreed to a Parenting Plan with Beth for shared parenting time every year over Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break and summers. Additionally, Tom was ordered to pay Child Support to Beth.
An experienced Colorado Family Law Attorney should possess the kind of specialized legal and trial skills and knowledge to give parents appropriate legal advice. The list of parental responsibilities is far greater than just determining how holidays will be divided.
Another important parenting abduction and kidnapping situation occurs when a parent has custody orders in another state and leaves that state. In some circumstances, the court, which originally decided custody and parenting, will no longer enforce those orders because the children have been away from that state for such an extended time. When a court will not take action to enforce its parenting orders and to prevent the children from being taken to another state, it is important to talk to a Family Law Attorney regarding the registration of the court orders from the originating state. In Colorado, this is a process that must begin with the registration of the foreign decree and foreign parenting orders of the other state.
Many situations occur when children are wrongfully taken from one or both parents, both throughout the United States and internationally. Some of these cases involve immigration laws and require that kind of specific expertise.
The legal consequences of child custody litigation are often times extremely complex and difficult. The parties become engaged in a tug of war to see which one has the fight to prevail and at what cost. In a recent case that I handled, a parent who had the child for her summer parenting time visit, decided to keep the child in Colorado instead of returning the child to her father who had parenting orders in Texas. Not only did the Colorado court allow for the emergency registration of the Texas court orders, it also conducted an emergency hearing before ultimately ruling that the child be turned over to the father within one hour after the hearing had concluded. With specific court orders from another state's court judge in the U.S., it is clear to see that the court's view of children being taken or withheld against orders of another court are treated in an extremely serious manner.
If you feel that your children have been abducted or kidnapped, contrary to a court order, contact me immediately so we can discuss your options and a legal strategy that can be used to protect you and your children.