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'Tis the Season: Traveling with Children

'Tis the season of many, many holidays and all the adherents of all the different holidays seem to share one tradition, they travel to see family. When that family lives in another city, they travel to another city. When that family lives in another state, they travel to another state. And when that family lives in another country, they travel to another country.

Many families that travel are doing fine. They have no earth shaking, ground breaking, decision making kinds of issues. They will travel to their destination and return largely unchanged and intact. Many other families have some issues, but none that will immediately change the course of events for the rest of their lives. They, too will return largely unchanged and intact. But still many other families are close to breaking, already torn, walking on eggshells, just waiting for the straw that finally breaks that camels back. When those families travel, they just might not return unchanged. They might not return intact. Some of them might not return at all.

The all-too-often scenario runs: the family travels to see one of the spouse's family. Often, the very unhappy spouse has already made plans not to return. They've been laying in wait with their plans since before the trip was penciled on the family calendar. Unbeknownst to their spouse, they have wrapped up their loose ends or have made peace with just walking away. The important stuff they are carrying with them, the children.

When a spouse decides to remain in another city in Georgia, the county where the whole family had formerly resided is the appropriate county to decide custody of the children. If the spouse remains in another state, the Uniform Child Custody, Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act provides that Georgia retains jurisdiction over the children for six months, even though they are being kept in another state. If the spouse decides to remain in another country, the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction provides that the United States should retain jurisdiction over the children for a year following their abduction.

As is always true in law, there are exceptions to every rule, but these results generally hold true.

There is a lot that one can do to get their children back after they have been abducted, and the courts more than frown on a parent who abducts a child. Often, when the child is returned home after protracted, complicated legal process, the abducting parent is lucky to visit with their child under what feels like maximum security standards.

But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so one is much better off being pro-active rather than reactive. It is far less disturbing and disrupting to prevent an abduction rather than litigate a return. It costs far less to keep a child in country than to try to claw her back.

If your family is traveling during this holiday season, you owe it to yourself and your children to take stock of where you stand in your relationship with your spouse. Are you fine? No issues? Do you have some issues that are on a slow burn? Maybe things aren't as contented as you would like but your spouse isn't going to opt to stay in her family's city/state/country. Are you sure?

Or have you and your spouse been traveling a long road of discontent and perhaps worse? Might the grass on the other side seem vividly more green? Might a path of no return be the road most favored? If it is, do yourself a huge favor. Don't travel this season. And more importantly, don't let the children travel either.

If you are so far along in plans that your travel is inevitable, let us know. There are still steps you can take to make an abduction far less likely and, should it occur, greatly minimize your spouse's chance of success.

Safe travels, if you must.

-Michael Manely 

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