The Scourge of Family Law: Parental Child Abduction

In custody disputes there are several “game changers”, including parental alienation, false allegations of child abuse and parental child abduction. Each of these ploys will turn run-of-the-mill custody litigation into extreme custody wars. Yet the most destructive of the three is the abduction of a child by a parent.

While the latest statistics say that parental abduction has decreased in Canada, other countries are experiencing a surge in the number of cases where young children are spirited away in the wake of divorce or separation.

This summer I handled three parental abduction cases, each time acting for the “left behind” parent. These cases involved six children: one 13-year old girl, taken by her mother to Florida from British Columbia; three-year-old twins accompanied their mother for a vacation in New York and failed to return to their Vancouver home; and three children holidaying outside of their home country of Mexico at summer camps in Toronto and India, were intercepted by their father and taken to Vancouver.

What surprises me about these cases is that the abducting parents actually believed they could employ this “self-help” method of obtaining custody of their children. Each found out they were wrong.

Parental abduction is the most insidious form of child abuse and while abducting parents often justify their behavior by alleging abuse by the left-behind parent, they cannot escape the criminal and civil recriminations of their conduct.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction is the international treaty that assists parents and governments to seek the return of children who have been wrongfully removed from their home country or state. So far, 86 countries and states have signed on to the Convention with Russia signing on in 2011.

The principles of the Convention provide that parents cannot unilaterally remove children from their home jurisdiction where such removal will impede the parenting, custody or access of the other parent. The Convention applies even where there is not a custody or access order and applies both to married and unmarried parents.

Most often when a parent abducts a child, the parent and child go “underground” making it difficult for the authorities to find the child. The protocol for the left-behind parent is to complete a Hague Abduction application which is delivered to the Hague Authority in the home jurisdiction, who then contact the Hague authority in the country or state where the child may be residing with the abducting parent.

Where there is personal contact between the parents, the first step is to request the voluntary return of the child. Alas, parents who clandestinely take their children away, rarely wish to return without some incentive. In most cases,the left-behind parent applies to the court in the home jurisdiction for an order that the child be returned.

The incentive for return is that in the absence of compliance with the return order, the abducting parent stands a good chance of losing custody of their child once the child is located, and even where a parent returns home with a child, may still suffer the consequences including restricted contact with their child, usually supervised access.

Parental child abduction is also a criminal offence in Canada, however, frequently the police leave the matter to the civil courts. In the case of the child abducted to Florida, when the child’s father contacted the RCMP, they completely ignored him, despite their mandate under the Criminal Code of Canada.

However, there are cases where the abducting parent is dealt with criminally as well as civilly. In two previous cases I handled, a mother that fled to Quebec with her infant daughter was arrested and convicted of child abduction. The family court restricted her contact to supervised access for almost one year and the criminal court placed her on two-years probation. Similarly, a mother who hid her children in France for many years was finally arrested and imprisoned in Vancouver, even though she was pregnant. It is unlikely she will ever have normal custodial/access time with her children.

In each of my three recent cases the endings were bitter-sweet. In all cases the children were returned, but returning home merely signals the beginning of long, ugly, expensive, custody/access battles where neither parent wins, and the children lose.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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19 thoughts on “The Scourge of Family Law: Parental Child Abduction

  1. As always very insightful. You know your stuff. Would you be interested in coming to Japan and doing a symposium on the damage caused due to parental child abduction and/or denial of access by one parent?

    • Kevin I will be visiting Tokyo in May 2012. Let me know if this date works for you? I’d love to do a seminar on this treacherous ploy to punish an ex. Cheers! Georgialee

  2. What if there is an abuser laying claim to your children and the children are with both their bilogical parents, but yet the abuser keeps on trying to get the children back to a non-home country for them. The Hague turned him down and the country supporting him, but he is still continuing to try and putting everyone in danger. Then he comes up with a so called court order stating that the children were habitional residents in a country on a date thet was after the court date, and a year after they left a country with both parents… how is that right ?…

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  4. Your very perceptive post came to mind this week while vacationing here in Firenze, Italy. I came across a case described in the town’s English language magazine http://www.theflorentine.net/articles/article-view.asp?issuetocId=7229
    What made me recall your post was your comment about the self-deception of the child abductors, and the sense that there is probably an accompanying mental illness. In the case mentioned in the article, the abductress, Marianne Grin, was a Harvard educated lawyer who had lost custody of her four children after having been found to be seriously unstable and dangerous. (And this is Italy where you don’t need to be Italian to know that mothers are a constitutionally protected class.) After losing custody, she kidnapped the children and took them to Russia, where no one has heard from them since August.
    I recently attended a seminar about mediation in international divorces, and the speaker noted that in abduction cases there is often a high degree of mental illness prompting the abductor to take the actions they do, with utter disregard for their children.
    It would be interesting to know if there have been any studies of the percentage of mental illness found to be accompanying child abductions. The case described in the article almost begs for such a study. One would think that a lawyer trained at Harvard would have the intellectual capability to understand the legal consequences of their actions, and would do this only if seriously impaired.
    Again, great post, and you had me thinking over a month later!
    Greg

    • a good father would never allow for a mother of 4 to lose custody of her children. Even if to say she was mentally ill or whatever her problem is, she is the MOTHER. The most sacred person a person has in his/her life!! A good father would attempt to help a mother if she had any problem not deprive her of her flesh and blood!! Of course a mother would lose her mind if she lost her children. Harvard degree just helped her to do it in a smarter way to reunite with her kids.

  5. Greg Thanks for sending me the Florence abduction story. Like you, I believe men and women who take this step are seriously emotionally disturbed. It’s too bad that countries like Russia and Japan say they will live by the Hague Convention, but when an incident occurs, always find a reason to ignore the international treaty.

    Thanks for your interesting comment. Georgialee

    • The system is disturbed, not people. Adversarial in nature, it drives parents to such extreme actions. Court mediators are useless puppets who don’t mean a thing. Family court with all the lawyers benefit from formers partners to become enemies to the point that one or both snap and begin act in a crazy way. My dear friend had to leave for Japan with her little son b/c her ex drove her to the point that having both parents in the child’s life would be much more damaging for the boy!! I miss her and she wished she had options. But there was no peaceful life for her nor her child. The bastard even tried to sue her for child support!!

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  7. Sorry, But there is a difference between knowing your stuff and what really happens in the courts of the UK. What should happen and what actually happens when a child is abducted is not adhered to by UK judges, that’s a fact!

    If you wish a very important letter from MP let me know.

    Robert

  8. What if a family moves together to the home country of one parent, which has a language and culture unfamiliar to the other parent? And then a year and a half later the home country parent has an affair and decides to leave the other parent? How is that not abuse? The other parent is then “stuck” in the other country. The adultery and abandonment cause severe psychological and financial distress. What do you expect that betrayed parent to do? Of course it is natural to want to flee with the children. You’ve been wronged and screwed over by a selfish spouse who put themselves before their family. It seems to me that the disloyal person should lose home country custodial rights.

  9. Are you at all aware of the many cases that have resulted in a male abuser using the Hague Convention to locate and then murder his estranged spouse and children? It may also be a revelation for you to visit a domestic violence shelter and to chat with some of the mothers there, but then again, perhaps not considering the biased content of your blog. Not all women who flee with their children are good and, officers of the court should also recognize that not all those who make Hague applications are good. Whenever I see a one sided perspective in an otherwise intelligent and educated person, it is clear that one of two things prop it up: money or unresolved personal issues. Sadly, I leave this blog as cynical as when I began reading. By they way, I am rather an expert in this matter.

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