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International child abduction by parents remains a problem

Pennsylvania parents may not know that 8,000 children were abducted by their parents between 2008 and 2013 and taken to another country in violation of a custody order. According to the U.S. State Department, parental abductions happen to more than 1,000 children annually. Foreign abductions can be particularly difficult to pursue. There can be obstacles even with countries that have signed onto the applicable Hague convention regarding international child abductions, and travel back and forth for parents pursuing a case can be expensive.

However, legislation passed by Congress in 2014 may put more pressure on foreign governments by requiring the State Department to release a list of the countries each year where a parental abduction of this type has occurred. The legislation also provides a list of actions that should take place in case of a foreign child abduction.

The legislation results in part from a case originating in New Jersey in 2004 when a woman took her son to Brazil. The child was not returned to his father until 2009. Rep. Chris Smith, who sponsored the new legislation, helped to get the child back to the United States. Other prominent cases have included a woman who took her 8-year-old daughter to Costa Rica until the child was 18 and another woman who fled to Central America with her daughter in 2009.

Parents who feel child abduction may be a possibility might want to discuss safeguards that they can include in the custody agreement. However, even if this is unlikely, there are other reasons to make a formal legal agreement regarding custody, support and visitation. It provides a legal framework to work from if one parent does not hold up their end of the agreement. Those parents who need to modify the terms of such an agreement due to changed circumstances can petition to do so through the court.

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