There is no international family law database which tells every government, foreign and domestic, where a child belongs. There is no cloud server that every official can check which contains the critical custody information for each child. Do mom and dad have equal custody? Does the child live in The Bahamas or Costa Rica or Brazil or Denmark or the US?
Nothing. None. No such luck.
So what is a government official to do when a parent presents a child for entry into a country? How can a government know that entry is copacetic for all concerned? How can that official even know who all is all concerned?
Oftentimes, they can’t.
Here’s an example: a while back, a mother abducted a child, pre-divorce, thinking she would abscond to her home country and live happily ever after. We were after her within days and were able to get the child back within six months. Of course, dad won custody in the divorce and mom received supervised visitation for a while. Also, dad retained the child’s passport.
Recently, we learned that mom had been hard at work back in her country, obtaining a fraudulent birth certificate. She has now returned to the United States under an agreement with dad that she could have the child in the U.S. for a few days, unsupervised. Dad still retains the child’s passport.
Unbeknownst to dad, mom plans to take the child to her Atlanta based consulate and, with the fraudulent birth certificate, obtain a “replacement” passport for the child from mom’s country. Then, still unbeknownst to dad, mom and child will make haste back to mom’s country, planning to live happily ever after.
The problem for mom is that all of this is now beknownst to dad. Having intelligence on the opposing party’s actions is a critical component to thwarting criminal conduct, including abducting our children out of our country. Mom got through step one, she obtained the birth certificate. She got through step two, she re-entered the United States. She never got to step three, possession of the child.
She cannot abduct what she cannot possess.
Christmastime and summertime are the two most critical periods for post-divorce child abduction. The saying goes, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” I’ll add to that: during the holidays, keep your children closer still.
As Gomer Pyle so famously said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” And as George Bush continued, “Don’t get fooled again.”
The best plan in international family law is to not get fooled the first time, but once fooled, remain hyper-vigilant over the children when you know that the once abducting ex is within the same time-zone. Vet all visitation plans. Put good safeguards in place. Lock down the borders. Micro-chip the children with a GPS (okay, that one may be going a bit too far).
But don’t get fooled again. Protect the children. They belong here. They belong with you. Let’s keep it that way.