Pennsylvania parents who are divorcing and whose relationship has an international component might be concerned about one of the parents taking their child abroad in contravention of a custody order. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is intended to protect against these abductions, and more than 90 countries including the United States are signatories.
A parent who suspects that a brief vacation abroad has turned into a refusal to return the child should file a petition as quickly as possible. This can be done at the state or federal level. It is best if the parent has a custody order before filing. The child must also be habitually resident in the country where the parent is filing.
Filing a petition is supposed to result in an immediate return if the child is under the age of 16, it has been less than a year since the abduction and the other country is also a signatory to the treaty. However, this can be complicated by foreign legal systems or even by the inability to locate the child. Some legal systems privilege the mother over the father in an unmarried relationship. The other parent can also refuse to return the child on the grounds that it would place the child in grave danger or if the parent filing does not have rights to child custody. Parents have 30 days to file an appeal following a denial in a trial court. In the case of an absence of more than a year, the return is discretionary.
The procedure for dealing with an international child abduction is complex. Parents can also take steps to prevent such an incident. For example, both parents’ permission can be required in order to issue a passport for the child. However, in cases where a child regularly goes to another country to visit family there, this would not be effective. Parents trying to balance their concern for their child’s return with the child’s need to visit other family members who live abroad might want to discuss their concerns with an attorney.