It's an unfortunate truth that children are the true victims of divorce, especially when they are used as pawns in a power struggle between their parents. In most cases, parents eventually call a truce and abide by the terms of a court-ordered custody agreement. However, we've all come across heart-breaking stories of children who are taken out of state, or even out of the country by parents who chooses to take matters into their own hands. One of the most common tactics used by bitter or desperate parents is to take the children to another state with custody laws that are likely to favor them.
Preventative measures were enacted in the 1980s, beginning with the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, also known as PKPA. The PKPA's main purpose is to uphold continuing exclusive jurisdiction over custody cases, meaning that the state in which the action was originally filed would continue to have jurisdiction over any proceedings. This law is often linked with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which dictates the state in which you would need to file your custody motion. Once the case is in litigation, the PKPA is what legally prohibits any other state from issuing a ruling pertaining to the children. This policy is particularly helpful when temporary custody orders are issued until the divorce is finalized. Parents who secretly move their children to another state in order to begin a new divorce or custody suit will be informed that a state already has exclusive jurisdiction over their case.
There are, however, some tricky situations that are not preventable under either the PKPA or the UCCJEA. One of theses issues involves the concept of “homes state”, or the state in which your child lives. A state becomes the child's home state when he or she has lived there for at least six months. If you have moved with your child to another state prior to filing for divorce, where you file for divorce, therefore custody, may become an issue of contention between you and your spouse. If you've been living in the new state less than six months, your divorce/ custody action will need to be filed in the old state. The only exception to this rule is if you have moved to a new state because of extreme circumstances such as child abuse and domestic violence.
Parental kidnapping is a scary and frustrating situation, but there are legal measures that can be taken in order to bring your child back home. It's essential that you do not engage in illicit acts yourself, such as attempting to take back your children and keeping them from your former spouse without approval from the courts. Instead, you should speak with a family law attorney, who will help you understand your rights and legal options. For more information on the PKPA, UCCJEA, or any other custody-related issues, please speak with the experienced family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.