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Child Snatching - Remedies in the Federal Courts

NCJ Number
Washington and Lee Law Review Volume: 41 Issue: 1 Dated: (Winter 1984) Pages: 185-206
M Madigan
Date Published
22 pages
Until 1980, the legal system did not deter but contributed to parental kidnaping. Since then, Federal courts have permitted common law tort actions for child snatching and have awarded significant damages to parents deprived of legal custody of their children.
Contributing to the legal environment that permitted child snatching to flourish was the Supreme Court's failure to interpret the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution to require States to recognize custody orders entered by other State courts. The States' use of the parens patriae power to intervene in a child custody dispute and the inconsequential criminal penalities for parental kidnaping also contributed to the child snatching epidemic. Since then, most States have created criminal penalities for parental kidnaping, and Federal and State Governments have enacted legislation designed to deter child snatching and to facilitate interstate custody agreements. The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Bar Association approved the Uniform Child Custody Jursidiction Act (UCCJA), created in 1968 to ensure that only one State exercises jurisdiction over a single child custody dispute. However, the two States that have not yet adopted the UCCJA continue to provide a haven for child snatchers. Also, in 1980 Congress passed the Parental Kidnaping Prevention Act (PKPA), which requires all States to enforce and not modify custody and visitation decrees of other States. The PKPA also authorizes the use of the Federal Parent Locator Service to assist certain authorities in locating parents who have abducted their children, and it extends the application of the Fugitive Felon Act to parental kidnaping cases in States where child snatching is a felony. Several Federal courts have recently recognized tort actions for child snatching, including common law torts and the tort of unlawful interference with legal custody of a child. Illustrative cases are cited throughout. Many footnotes are provided.