Photo, crochet work, and book by Anne Hart
How to Research International Child Custody Battles: 21 Strategies that could help you receive custody and return your child back to the USA
It's a cold, winter midnight...New Year's Eve, and your soon-to-be ex-spouse throws you out of the door, naked, and actually believes that a spouse can just toss a spouse out the front door and send the kids away, just because your spouse wants to be free, feels you're a stone around his/her neck, and wants to send the children to a distant land to be raised by your spouse's relatives, and forbids you to even think of visiting....
What if you're of a sensitive personality type, forced to sign a quit-claim deed to your home, and your house is sold, the money pocketed by your spouse who leaves with the entire contents of your joint bank account, and you're left homeless to fend for yourself in a city where you have no friends or relatives, and there's no one in your home town in a position to help? What if under threat and duress you're forced to sign away your children and your house...and repeatedly are failing your driving test, so you're limited to public transportation to find a job, since you haven't worked in years being at home with your children...and suddenly you're alone, penniless, and on your own in the throes of chronic anxiety?
Or in another scenario, you've received sole custody orders from a U.S. court, and you think your divorce heartache is over. One day during a visitation your ex‑husband (or wife) shoves you aside, threatens you, or even knocks you unconscious and snatches your child and flies away to his or her native country to be raised overseas by his or her relatives. Is there any way you can get help? What if you're a battered spouse, or verbally and emotionally abused, and find yourself without money, with no one you know willing to help, and unable to leave your home?
What if you married too young or unaware of the possibilities to "see around corners" as to what possibly could happen after you had children and your spouse wants a divorce and to return to his or her native land--with the children and all the money in a joint bank account, assuming you didn't keep your own bank account "for a rainy day" and you gave up your job to stay home and raise a family, depending on your spouse to bring home the money for food and rent/mortgage/transportation?
Or if you are experiencing post-partum chronic anxiety and your spouse is threatening divorce and demands full custody of the children to be raised not in your familiar home town or any other USA city, but in his or her native country, by his or her close relatives?
Or your spouse divorces you and suddenly one day leaves the house with the children, and perhaps a mistress who isn't helping you keep your family together? What if the bank account is cleaned out, the house sold, and you have no money for a lawyer, and if you have to go on welfare, you're being moved out of the house (and into a blighted area), moved out of the house you own with your spouse because the mortgage payments are too high?
What if your spouse left you penniless and homeless, taking all the money from your joint bank account and ordering you out of the house or apartment, even selling the house behind your back or forcing you to sign a quitclaim deed to the house under false promises to cancel the divorce, or duress such as threats to you if you don't sign over the house, that he or she sells, and then leaves the country with the money and children, and you're left homeless, without any money, and perhaps out of a job, if you've been at home for years taking care of the children and house? What do you do if you ex-spouse brings relatives over, moves them in, and they eventually rough you up, threaten your life, or otherwise intimidate you?
If you have no money, can't find a job, and have no living relatives or close friends in a position to help you, what can you do? What if you're housebound by fears or phobias or various post-partum health issues? What if you never learned to drive, have no access to transportation, and need help, but no one is offering to aid you in keeping your children from leaving the country for decades?
The next thing you know is your child is missing overseas and isn't coming back. The foreign court doesn't obey U.S. custody court orders. In your ex‑spouse's country, he and his children are considered foreign nationals, even though your child was born in the U.S. And the foreign court's legal system always awards a child in a divorce case to the father or his family.
More than 300,000 children have been abducted since the sixties by a parent, and more than 6,000 have disappeared in foreign countries, some for more than 20 years without correspondence with the American parent.
What strategies can you take to prevent your ex‑spouse or partner from taking your child overseas permanently?
1. Obtain a Federal UFAP Warrant when you file felony charges. Ask your prosecutor to apply for a federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution warrant.
2. Find out whether your ex‑partner is traveling on a U.S. or a foreign passport. If your ex‑spouse carries a U.S. passport, ask the Office of Passport Services of the U.S. Dept. of State to revoke your ex‑spouse's U.S. passport.
3. If your ex‑partner's traveling with his/her foreign passport or is a dual national, you'll have to approach the foreign consulate or embassy. They may not honor U.S. court custody orders or obey any U.S. court orders involving their own nationals. It depends on the country.
4. Once your ex‑spouse's U.S. passport is revoked, he or she becomes an undocumented alien in a foreign nation. The foreign government may soon deport or contact an undocumented alien.
5. If you can't get a UFAP warrant, you can have your ex‑partner's passport revoked if the holder of the passport is subject to a criminal court order, condition of probation, or parole. All these conditions forbid departure from the U.S. If your partner's in violation, he or she could be subject to a provision of the Fugitive Felon Act.
6. Visit the Immigration and Naturalization Department (INS). If your ex‑spouse returns to the U.S. leaving the children abroad for his/her parents to raise in the foreign culture, have an officer from the INS access computers at border checkpoints with the national Crime Information Center (NCIC) Wanted Person File.
You may write to INS at 425 I St., NW, Washington, DC 20536. Ask the INS whether the circumstances under which your ex‑spouses "green card" (now rose in color) or work permit may be revoked or suspended apply to the abductor.
7. If you can get a state or federal felony warrant, which is entered into the NCIC, the INS could be asked to arrest the abductor parent when he or she returns to the U.S. Ask your police investigator to enter the abducting parent's name into the INS "Lookout Book."
8. Pursue international extradition. If state felony charges were issued against your ex‑partner, ask your local prosecutor to extradite. Your local prosecuting attorney may call or write to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Criminal Division, Office Of International Affairs, 1400 New York Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20030. A renegotiation of criminal extradition treaties between the U.S. and United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada included parental abduction as an internationally extraditable crime.
9. After you extradite your partner, be aware he or she may still keep the children in hiding with relatives or friends in the foreign country.
10. INTERPOL your ex. After you've lodged criminal charges against your ex‑spouse, ask your police department to request help from INTERPOL by contacting the National Center. Ask the police to request liason services from the Technical Analyst. Ask the investigating officer to contact INTERPOL directly at INTERPOL, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, DC 20530.
11. Use the U.S. Customs Service's computer system. It's linked with the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Wanted Persons File at Customs Service checkpoints at U.S. airports and borders.
Ask the customs official to run a "random sample" check on a few Americans returning from foreign travel. If you have a state or federal felony warrant that's in the NCIC Wanted Person File, the abductor has a chance of being arrested if he or she reaches U.S. customs at an airport or border.
12. Contact the Office of Citizens Consular Services, U.S. Department of State, Room 4817, Washington, D.C. 20520. If you have an after‑hours emergency. Have all paperwork in front of you regarding identification of the abductor and your children.
13. If your child's health or welfare is endangered in the foreign country, contact the International Social Services Organization, 20 W. 40th St., New York, NY 10018.
14. Entry and residence records are always kept by foreign countries. If you're stranded looking for your children abroad, go to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. They may be able to provide you with enough money to travel home or U.S. passports for your children, if your ex has obtained foreign passports for them, but you now have legal custody in the U.S.
15. Trace your ex‑partner's financial sources. Money must come from somewhere to support your children. Look into the proceeds of bank accounts, loans, credit cards, and the assets of the abductor's foreign family who may be supporting your children.
Contact the motor vehicle bureau in the U.S. and in the foreign country where your spouse may have family. How did your ex‑spouse leave the U.S.? Check the airlines, car rental firms, and other transportation sources. Talk to customs agents. Look at phone bills and mail covers. Where are the utility bills going? Which health department vaccinated your children for foreign travel? What address was given on your children's vaccination records?
16. File a court action for your children's return. Find an attorney familiar with the Hague Convention. It's an international treaty that governs the return of internationally abducted children. The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1988. Only Australia, Canada, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. participate in the Hague convention.
17. Call the Citizens Consular Services or the Center for Missing and Exploited Children for an update on which countries are now adhering to the treaty that honors U.S. court custody orders to return abducted children to the custodial parent.
18. Obtain a list of international attorneys specializing in international child abduction custody disputes from the Office of Citizens Consular Services, at the U.S. Department of State. These lawyers speak English.
Contact the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, U.S. Chapter, 727 Atlantic Ave., Boston, MA 02111‑2891. Ask for a lawyer referral list of specialists in international child custody and abduction cases.
Also write to the Family Law Division of the International Bar Association, c/o 6950 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22213. Write to the Legal Defense Counsel, 111 15th St., Philadelphia, PA 19102. Ask for guidelines and a list of referrals to foreign lawyers specializing in your needs who speak English and take American clients. If you travel to the foreign country where you believe your children are being held hostage by a noncustodial parent, visit the legal bar associations in that country.
19. You may have to sue your ex‑spouse in a foreign court. To have your American custody order recognized in a foreign court, it helps to learn about comity. The word refers to a process in which the courts of different countries recognize one person's orders. Comity is voluntary and requires reciprocity.
Your attorney should be familiar with comity and check Article 23 of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act. This act requires foreign custody orders to be honored by American courts.
Learn to make decisions under stress by focusing on your most important strategies. Make lists. Keep diaries. Plan schedules. Stay organized and decisive.
20. If you ex‑spouse has gone to a foreign court and obtained foreign court orders granting him or her sole custody in the foreign country, then the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act requires your ex‑spouse's foreign custody orders to be honored in an American court when your ex‑spouse returns to the U.S.
You can read summaries of numerous international custody cases by writing to the Office of Citizens Consular Services. A copy of Interstate Child Custody Disputes and Parental Kidnapping: Policy Practice and Law, is meant for lawyers, but it makes helpful reading for parents. Call the Legal Department of the National Center for Missing and Exploited children.
21. Research the legality of hiring a hostage rescue service. For anywhere from $35,000 to $100,000 and up, you might be able to hire former U.S. Delta Force commandos who are experts in training hostage rescue personnel. Make sure what you're inquiring about is legal in your area.
Will the people you hire travel with you to the foreign country to take your child back?. The commando team makes a point of showing foreign nationals they are unarmed when they return a child to the parent with custody orders from a U.S. court.
How to fight International Child Custody Disputes
What To Do If Your Child Is A Victim Of Parental Kidnapping
Let's say for example that seven years ago you married that unique foreign (or American) business person, student, visitor, or perhaps an immigrant from a country you used to fantasize about in your wildest dreams of romantic passion. Suddenly you had two or three children in a quick succession.
You thought foreigners would put you on a pedestal, but you're finding that your culture and background isn't respected, held in high esteem or status, or perhaps valued in the same way a spouse from your partner's country would be valued. Are women from your spouse's country or culture valued in a different way than you thought?
It may not even be a cultural difference, but a family history difference within a similar cultural origin, such as how women/men are treated in that person's own family, regardless of background. Or maybe you wanted someone different from your own family background because you grew up as an emotionally neglected child. Maybe you wanted to make peace with two nations that always hated each other, and you thought you'd start making peace at the family level.
You're wondering whether something was lacking in your own culture that you sought in your spouse's. Perhaps you think that the lower your self esteem, the more you want someone different from yourself. The higher your self esteem, the more you want someone like yourself.
You ask yourself whether you married a foreigner because you wanted greater respect. You think you married out of fear of abandonment now and ponder whether it was love or the charismatic charm of that flamboyant or seductive foreigner. Perhaps you're a man who thought European or Asian women were more submissive or more charming or more feminine.
Now that cultural shock has set in and the differences are too great an arc to span, the marriage has gone sour. You're abused. Your spouse's family threatens you.
You're afraid your estranged or ex-spouse is about to abduct your children to be raised by his mother and sisters in a foreign country whose laws legally grant custody of children to the father or his family, regardless of the children's citizenship.
Maybe you're a father whose chic European wife is about to take the children to a European country where the law permits her the right of refusing to divulge her address. You can't find your children overseas. What should you do?
If the children aren't abducted yet, but you are afraid they might be at any moment, the following are some early warning signs to observe.
1. Your spouse wants to send you on a vacation without the children.
2. Your spouse throughout the marriage has emphasized the moral superiority of children raised in the foreign culture as compared to American children.
3. Your spouse has repeated stories of how better a mother his sister or his own mother is compared to you. Or in the case of a foreign wife, she has emphasized how much better a career and environment she could have in her native country, or how well her family could support the children compared to you.
4. Your spouse has a lover who is willing to assist your spouse in the abduction of children overseas. For example, you married a foreigner who now has a foreign lover who is willing to accompany your spouse overseas with your children.
5. Your spouse invites his or her mother or sibling to come from abroad and live with you or visit for a period of time. You notice a critique of your parental ability or competency as a housekeeper or provider by your foreign in-laws. Suddenly you come home one day and find your children's clothing already packed in luggage by your in-laws.
6. Your spouse places the children's learning of the foreigner's native customs above the learning of English as a first language and American customs and considers American customs a bad influence.
7. Your spouse places a spouse's individual rights far below the rights of the entire family as a whole. For example, a wife's rights are given less value than the rights of the spouse and his brothers and father or entire family.
8. Your spouse's mother and siblings are treated better than you.
9. Your spouse slaps or disciplines you physically or in a verbally abusive way for trying to discipline the children your own way, assuming that you're not a child-abuser yourself.
Or your spouse tells the children that he will physically discipline you if you try to verbally discipline them.
10. Your spouse is a controlling bully who tries to manipulate you out of his or her own low self-esteem using your marriage solely as a way to obtain a residency card to work in the U.S.A.
11. Your spouse was previously married to someone only to obtain a residency permit or work card.
12. When you marry a foreigner who is not yet a resident you agree legally to support that person. When your spouse divorces you or you divorce your spouse, he or she has the legal right to sue you for non-support. This suit can be filed even if he or she married you only to clean out your bank account and sent the children overseas to be raised by his/her mother or family.
You can counter-sue on the grounds of fraud and have the married annulled on the basis that your spouse married you only to obtain a "green card" (which is now rose-colored) that enables a foreigner to work and live in the U.S.A.
13. In a divorce from a foreign-born person, always ask for sole custody of your children with reasonable visitation rights for the spouse, but that under no circumstances is your spouse to take the children for a visit overseas during his or her visitation rights.
14. If you have already given custody of your children to your ex-spouse because you were unable to support the children due to bad health, lack of skills or a job, agoraphobia, or emotional disorders, have your reasonable visitation rights put into the divorce decree with the stipulation that the custodial foreign-born parent is not to raise the child overseas where the child would forget the English language and have no opportunity to visit the non-custodial parent. It's reasonable to deduce that since you're too sick to support your child that you're also too sick to travel overseas, that is to fly or risk vertigo on a ship. Therefore, raising a child overseas would deprive you of your non-custodial visitation rights.
Many spouses are divorced when they are at their lowest point in mental and physical health and assume that because they cannot support a child or cannot find work, that it's better to give that child to the foreign parent. They assume it's cheaper to raise a child in overseas. Then when they are back on their feet, they want the children back.
14. A man may not pay child support in order to force the woman to give up the children so he can let his mother raise them cheaper overseas. When the woman has not found a job and lacks a chance of financial support from her own parents because they are dead, retired, or too poor to help, she frequently hands the children over to the foreign spouse with his large, extended family. This can also happen to an American father, of course, married to a woman from a foreign country.
15. Most American men marry women from Europe or the Far East, while most American women tend to marry men from southeast Europe, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, Southwest Asia, Latin America, or North Africa.
Women who choose men from these countries should realize that children are legally given to the man or his family in a divorce. It is inconceivable to a Middle Eastern man, for example, that his children should go to an American wife in a divorce. They are the property of the man and usually delegated to his mothers and sisters to raise or to the man's brother's family.
An early warning sign to watch for here is the contact between his family and yours and whether he regards his family (and extended family) superior to your American family. Does he think your American family doesn't love you as much as his family loves him? Watch for this key belief. A lot of men think their family is warmer, more emotional and expressive of feelings of love than your American family whom he might call cold and withdrawing.
16. In what ways does he value the children? Would he risk his life to own his children as his property? Is he willing to have you killed or harmed to obtain his children? The same situation may be applied to American men with foreign wives.
17. Statistics on child abductions reveal that there is no one area of the world to which most abducted children are taken. Various ethnic groups immigrate to different parts of the U.S. They form communities of their own language group in various states and communities.
In large, urban cities, they may even gravitate to their own neighborhoods with social centers that encourage the culture, language, religious practices, and ethnicity of that immigrant group.
18. In recent years, American women have found the music, food, dance, and art of these various ethnic centers to be refreshing and attractive. As they attend ethnic functions, they may meet men from these new areas looking for a wife who will give them their only chance to remain in America.
19. If the American woman is on guard and cautious, she will find these early warning signs that the man has long-range plans to someday return to his native land after he has made his fortune in the U.S.--and take his children back with him for his mother to raise.
Such warning signs are frequent trips back home, buying land in his native country with money he's made in the U.S., and keeping the passport of his native land current even after he's obtained an American passport.
20. Watch for moves toward borrowing money from you or your relatives as soon as your spouse obtains American citizenship or residence. If your spouse sells the family business, makes large purchases to be taken abroad, like a car, or files a divorce when he or she is between businesses and is broke, it's a warning sign.
Many divorces are filed within days of a spouse receiving American citizenship papers.
21. The old culture is idolized as being better than the new, American culture that is said to alienate children from their traditional roots.
We all need ethnic identity to be proud of as we live in America. It's only when a spouse insists his or her ethnic roots are better than those of the American spouse that child abduction to that ethnic culture becomes a reality.
When a marriage dissolves, both parents may revert to infantile behavior and want to own the children to compensate for the loss of the marriage status and financial security as a family. If your marriage has gone sour, and you're married to a foreigner, be aware that child-care expenses in a foreign country cost much less than in the U.S. Servants who work for little pay are available in many countries.
It is easier for a man to find family members and their servants to care for children and later a second wife than it is for an American woman to obtain skills, find a job, and pay for child care and housing without any family of her own willing to help.
If your former spouse or partner is not an American citizen or the country of his/her origin only recognizes his/her foreign passport (even though he/she received American citizenship), contact the consulate or embassy of your spouse's country. Research all the policies of that government regarding parental kidnapping and child custody--before you get married.
Foreign embassies are located in Washington, D.C. Many countries maintain consulates in large, American cities. Have an immigration attorney prepare a prenuptial agreement signed by the embassy of the foreign country regarding child custody before you marry the foreigner. If you're already married, do this now.
There are foreign governments who don't honor an American custody order. Don't be left helpless and in shock when from out of the blue your children are gone and can't be found in a foreign country, and the foreign government won't help you because they don't obey any orders from the American courts or government.