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Can a parent face charges for taking a child out of the U.S.?

Parents have a lot of rights concerning their children. It is important to know the boundaries Maryland parents may not cross to understand these rights fully, particularly if there is a dispute over child custody. Not knowing where the lines are drawn may put a parent at risk of being charged with a federal crime.

A parent who takes a son or daughter beyond the country's borders for the purpose of denying the other parent access to the child can be charged with international parental kidnapping. This charge also applies for parents who retain a child in a foreign country or attempt to flee with a child under 16 outside the U.S.

Parental kidnapping frequently take place when spouses are newly separated and haven't worked out child custody arrangements. In some cases, parents take off with a child following unfavorable court decisions about custody. A parent convicted of federal parental kidnapping can be fined and imprisoned for as long as three years.

Federal investigators can try to prosecute parental kidnappers, but they are limited in their powers. States have jurisdiction over custody matters and U.S. laws can be meaningless in the country where the absent parent went. The Hague Convention encourages foreign authorities to act in concordance to return abducted children to their home countries, but not all countries have agreed to the rules of the Convention.

Legal problems over custody aren't confined to parents who leave the U.S. with a child. In Maryland, felony charges and penalties may apply if a child is abducted from a legal guardian, no matter how much distance is between the child and a custodial parent.

A parent accused of parental kidnapping in Maryland can benefit from the advice of family and criminal law attorneys. Not all kidnapping allegations are valid. The parent of a child taken from an abusive environment may be able to obtain temporary emergency custody.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice, "International Parental Kidnapping," accessed June 19, 2015

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