International Child Custody: Preventing Child Abduction
On September 4, 2014, Wenjing Liu, a 32 year old Chinese citizen living in the United States was boarding United Airlines Flight 897 to China with her four year old son. Ms. Liu was separated from her husband, the child’s father. Pursuant to a temporary court order the husband was granted visitation with the child. The court order further stated that neither parent could remove the child from the United States without first obtaining the express written and notarized consent of the other parent. Approximately ninety minutes before takeoff, Ms. Liu notified her estranged husband that she was taking their child to China.
The child’s father immediately went to the airport and provided the authorities with a copy of the court-order. The Federal Bureau of Investigation directed United Airlines Flight 897 back to the airport and arrested Ms. Liu. Ms. Liu was convicted of International Parental Kidnapping.
The result in this case is atypical. According to the United States’ Department of Justice, over sixty-nine thousand children are abducted each year. Many of these children end up in countries outside the United States’ control. The Husband in this case was extremely lucky that he was able to notify the authorities of his child’s abduction before the United States’ lost jurisdiction.
China is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. If a child is abducted the primary mechanism for securing the return of a child is via the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. Signatories to the convention will typically acknowledge a previous court order from a foreign country. Non-signatories will not acknowledge a foreign court order.
The following advice will help prevent the other parent from taking a child to a foreign country without both parents permission:
- Make sure that any temporary or permanent custody order has provisions expressly preventing removal of any children from the United States;
- Make sure you enroll any children in the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (“CPIAP”). If a passport application is submitted for a child enrolled in CPIAP, the Department of State will alert the child’s parents to verify whether they approve of the passport issuance;
- Be on the alert for sudden changes in your spouse’s life. For example: job loss, home sales, bank account closings, etc. These actions may be signs that the parent is intending to leave the United States.
- Do not ignore any abduction threat made by your spouse. Once you believe that your child is at risk for abduction:
- contact your local authorities and give them copies of any relevant court orders; and
- make sure that your child is entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, so that the FBI can act on your behalf without need of a court issued warrant.
In sum, a parent separating from, or divorcing a spouse that is a citizen of a foreign country should always be cognizant of the threat of international parental kidnapping. If your child has been taken to a foreign country, or you want to take precautions to make sure your child is not taken to a foreign country, contact an international custody attorney immediately.