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International child abduction and the Hague Convention

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides some protection about a child being taken out of the country in violation of an existing custody order. New Jersey parents who are in this position can file a petition in either federal or state court if the other country is a signatory to the multi-national treaty. Theoretically, this should trigger the immediate return of a child under the age of 16 although the reality is often more complex.

There are certain reasons that a petition may be denied. The child must be habitually resident in the country where the petitioner files. Some countries give greater weight to the mother's right to custody. Delays may cause a problem, so parents should file promptly. If the parent is concerned about the other parent fleeing with the child, an immediate warrant can be issued that may result in detaining the parent although it is more likely the child's passport will be impounded. Other difficulties that might arise include problems locating the child. In some cases, it might be necessary to hire a private detective.

The other parent may claim that the child is in grave danger, and this could also cause a petition denial. In some cases, the petitioner may have no right of custody, or the other parent may claim that is the case.

These are complex situations that involve dealing with foreign governments and laws. They may be expensive and time consuming. Prevention is the best approach, and parents can include provisions in their parenting plan that may reduce the likelihood of an international abduction. Some cases have taken years to resolve and required political intervention. A parent who is divorcing and is concerned about this possibility may want to meet with an attorney to see what the next step should be.

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