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Was Your Child Kidnapped by Their Other Parent? Call a Montgomery County Parental Kidnapping Attorney

Pennsylvania Parental Kidnapping and Child Custody Issues

A child is more likely to be abducted by a family member than a random stranger. Parental abductions have become more common since the 1970s due to three major factors: the increase in marriages between couples from different countries, the rising mobility of the U.S. population, and greatly increased divorce rates. The U.S. averages roughly 200,000 parental kidnappings every year. This terrifying issue was addressed internationally in the 1980 Hague Convention, and around 90 countries currently adhere to the convention’s goals of preventing abductions and locating victims.

If your child has been taken unlawfully by your ex-spouse, then you should immediately contact law enforcement in order to ensure child is safely returned to you. In addition, you will want to contact the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. at (610) 645-0100 to secure the legal aid of a Montgomery County parental kidnapping attorney who can advocate for a change in custody in a family law court.

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What Is Parental Abduction?

In a custody plan, both parents may have similar rights to see a child. This can include the child splitting time between different households throughout the year or one parent having physical custody while the other receives visitation. While Pennsylvania courts will attempt to create a beneficial compromise for both parents, their goal is primarily to protect the child’s wellbeing. This may lead to one parent receiving more time with the child than the other, causing further disputes after a divorce.

These disputes may result in a parental kidnapping case where one parent violates the terms of a custody plan and refuses to return a child to the other parent. Examples of parental kidnapping include:

  • Taking a child out of school without the other parent’s permission
  • Taking a child on a surprise vacation
  • Fleeing the county, state, or country

In almost every scenario, this is in violation of a court ordered custody plan and can lead to serious criminal charges, least of which being found in contempt of court. In some instances, the other parent may face kidnapping charges.

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Pennsylvania Kidnapping Laws

Kidnapping and abduction are often used interchangeably, but kidnapping usually involves the threat or use of force. Pennsylvania defines "kidnapping" as when a person removes another person a substantial distance from the place that person was found. Kidnapping can also occur when a person holds another in confinement or isolation. It is unlawful when done with force, deception, threats, or without permission from a parent if the individual is under the age of 14.

There are also several other laws and services that can come into play during a parental kidnapping case, some of which aid law enforcement in enforcing custody plans and retrieving abducted children.

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Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA)

Enacted by Congress in 1980, the PKPA is a federal law that acts as a deterrent for abductions by encouraging state-to-state communication and defining jurisdictional priority. The state where the child has lived for the six-month period before the abduction charges are filed is designated as the "home" state. Another state may not take action regarding jurisdiction when the home state has pending actions.

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Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA)

Completed in 2006, the UCAPA was designed to prevent abductions by imposing travel limitations on persons accompanying a child. Some of these requirements include that itineraries must be provided, as well as address and phone contact information, and other travel-related documents. Further restrictions may include that the child not be removed from the state without written permission or prohibiting contact with the child at school or other unsupervised locations.

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America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) System

This system was enacted federally in 2003 to provide critical information about the child and the alleged perpetrator of a kidnapping or abduction. It uses an emergency alert and notification system to broadcast the details to the public via radio, text message, email and more.

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What Can You Do?

If the police can return your child to you, you may be able to receive a restraining order on their behalf to ensure this situation does not happen again. Parental kidnapping can be seen as child abuse in a family law court and can have an extremely negative impact on them. The courts may grant you a temporary order against the other parent that protects you and your child from reprisal until a later hearing where the judge will decide on a final order. In addition to filing a restraining order, you may also be able to hold the other parent in contempt for violating the nature of your custody plan and even receive sole custody to protect the child.

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Threatening to Kidnap a Child

In some instances, one parent may threaten to abduct a child or claim they have no intention of abiding by the custody plan. While they may not go through with it, threatening to kidnap a child is still a serious issue in the eyes of the court. If the other parent does threaten to abduct your child, you may petition the court for emergency custody and hold the other parent in contempt. However, in order to do so, you must demonstrate to a judge that the other parent is a threat to your child’s safety and has no intentions of abiding by the custody order.

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Defenses in Cases of Parental Kidnappings

There are a few common legal defenses in cases of parental kidnappings. One is that the child gave the person consent, or that the parental guardian consented in some direct or indirect way. Another defense is claiming that there was no intent to inflict harm, that there was a lack of understanding, or that a mistake was made. Lastly, a defense of insanity or a mental condition may be cited as the reason.

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Similar Parent/Child Offenses

There are three similar offenses under PA law:

  • Unlawful restraint: A parent of a minor knowingly restrains them, resulting in potential exposure to bodily injury or in a state of unwanted servitude.
  • False imprisonment: The parent restrains the minor in a manner that limits their right to liberty.
  • Interference with custody of children: A parent knowingly removes or entices a minor away from the lawful custodian. In these instances a parent may claim that their actions are not contrary to the court order based on some award of partial custody or child visitation.

For over 25 years, the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. have been proudly serving clients in Montgomery and Chester Counties with the many aspects of family law. We recognize that you and your family deserve individualized and compassionate legal assistance. Contact our office at (610) 645-0100 for a consultation with a dedicated Montgomery County family law attorney.

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Additional Information

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