Federal law defines “parental abduction” as the taking, concealment, or retention of a child by a parent, other family member, or an agent of a family member, for the purpose of withholding custody rights or visitation rights from another parent or family member. Per Florida Statutes 787.03, the act of interfering with custody with the malicious intent to deprive another person of his or her right to custody of a minor child is a third-degree felony. This is true whether or not a custody order is in place that dictates parents’ rights. A third-degree felony in Florida is punishable by a prison term of no more than five years and a fine of $5,000. The punishment is more severe for habitual violent offenders.
There are federal laws in place that also protect parents and children who fall victim to parental abduction. Three such laws include the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, which is designed to avoid jurisdictional conflict between states, promote cooperation between states, and facilitate the enforcement of custody orders from other states; the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act, which makes it a federal crime for one parent to remove a child from the United States with the intent to interfere with another’s parental rights; and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, which ensures that states honor the custody determinations made in other states so long as the determinations meet the requirements listed within the act itself.
Though there are protections in place to prevent parental abduction, it remains a huge issue in the United States, with hundreds of victims taken from their rightful parents each year. For this reason, prevention is key. At the Law Offices of David L. Hirschberg, P.A., we cannot stress enough that prevention, in instances of parental kidnapping, begins with knowing the signs of an impending abduction and stopping it before it can happen.
Early Identification of Risk Factors for Parental Abduction
Because of the prevalence rate of parental kidnapping, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, funded a study to identify the risk factors for parental abduction. The study sought to answer the following questions:
- What type of parent abducts his or her child?
- Does family violence play a role in the increasing likelihood of abduction?
- How can one identify the risk of a child being abducted?
- What can be done to protect the child from abduction?
According to the study’s findings, there are six different profiles of parents that are at greater risk of abducting their children:
- Profile One: The parent who has made a credible threat to abduct the child or has a history of hiding the child. This parent has previously withheld visitation or taken the child from the custody of the other parent. This profile is typically combined with other risk factors, including but not limited to unemployment, homelessness, liquidated assets, maximum withdrawals from bank accounts, borrowing against credit cards and other sources, and connections with people or groups not in the area.
- Profile two:The parent who suspects neglect or abuse, and who has a group of people who back his or her concerns. It is not uncommon for parents who suspect that their child’s other parent is abusing, neglecting, or molesting the child to take the child away from the perceived dangerous situation. In many of these instances, the abducting parent HAS gone to the authorities but has not been taken seriously, or Child Protective Services has investigated the complaints but turned up nothing. Sometimes, CPS and the authorities HAVE failed he child, but oftentimes, allegations of abuse, particularly those against a father or stepfather, prove to be unsubstantiated.
- Profile Three: The parent who is paranoid delusional. Although only a small percentage of parents fit this profile, these are the parents that present the greatest flight risk, and the greatest risk of causing physical harm or even death to the child. Ironically, these parents truly believe that the OTHER parent will cause harm to the child and themselves, and so feel compelled to take immediate and drastic measures to “protect” the child. These parents often do not perceive the child as a separate person, but rather, as an extension of themselves (thereby making themselves the victim), or worse, as an extension of the other parent (thereby making the child the enemy).
- Profile Four:The parent who is severely sociopathic. These people are often self-serving, manipulative, and exploitive, and they have a long-history of flagrant violations of the law and disdain of anybody with authority. Individuals who fit this profile often hold exaggerated beliefs of their own superiority and get great joy over their ability to exert control over others. As with delusional parents, those who fit this profile are unable to perceive that their children have separate needs or rights. As a result, they often use their children as instruments of revenge or as punishing the other parent. They show no remorse for their behavior and will continue to demonstrate controlling and abusive behavior regardless of who it hurts.
- Profile Five:The parent who is a citizen of another country and ends a mixed-cultural marriage. When a parent who is a citizen of another country ends his or her marriage with an American citizen, he or she may feel compelled to return to his or her home country and the support system there. The risk for parental abduction is particularly high right around the time of separation and divorce, as these parents may feel a need to return to their roots for the emotional support they need to be “whole” again.
- Profile Six:The parent whose support system is in a different community or feels alienated by the legal system. There are several parents who fall into this category: those whose families live across country, those who are uneducated and do not understand the legal system, those who cannot afford legal support, and those who are victim of domestic violence.
Of course, a parent may fit several of these profiles and never abduct the child, and vice versa: a parent may not show any indicators of being a kidnapping risk and take the child nonetheless. The key is to understand what might motivate a parent to kidnap a child and take precautionary measures ahead of time. For instance, if you and your spouse ended your marriage badly, and if you have had trouble in the past exercising your parental rights during your allotted time because of the other parent’s refusal to let you have the child, you may want to keep a copy of your custody order on you at all times, suggest family mediation, inform the courts of any instances of contempt as soon as they occur, and require that either parent who leaves the county, state, or country with the child post bonds to ensure the safe and timely return of the child.
The study details other types of interventions that both parents and the legal system can take to prevent abductions and protect the child’s needs and rights.
When to Retain the Help of a Boca Raton Custody Lawyer
If you suspect that your child’s other parent has the potential to abduct your child, the best thing you can do for your child and your parental rights is to contact a Boca Raton child custody attorney right away. The lawyers at Law Offices of David L. Hirschberg, P.A. can help you explore your options and take the necessary measures to keep your child safe. Call our office today to get started.