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Obstacles to the Recovery and Return of Parentally Abducted Children: Congressional Report, the Role of Law

NCJ Number
L K Girdner, P M Hoff
Date Published
300 pages
This report presents the findings of a 2-year study that looked into existing law, policies and practices to determine what obstacles and impediments exist to the recovery of parentally abducted children.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention through a cooperative agreement with the American Bar Association conducted a 2-year study of the legal, policy, procedural and practical obstacles to the location, recovery and return of children abducted by a noncustodial parent. The results of that study are reported in these two volumes. Some of the key existing Federal and State laws that have been enacted in response to the problem of parental kidnapping are reviewed. Among these are the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), the Parental Kidnapping Act (PKA), the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the Missing Children's Act and the National Child Search Assistance Act. A number of obstacles to the return of parentally abducted children are identified. Some of these obstacles involve the civil legal response. Jurisdictional conflicts are particular problems. Parents can get conflicting custody orders in the courts of different States with no forum for deciding which order should stand. Furthermore, there is no effective procedure for a court in one State to determine whether a custody case is pending or a custody order has been issued in another State. A model statute to create a system for expediting the enforcement of child custody determinations is proposed. Misinterpretation of the PKA by State courts and lack of uniformity and specificity in State variations of the UCCJA are also cited as problems. Other obstacles involve the criminal justice response in locating and recovering the abducted child. Among these are inadequate funding of law enforcement and State missing children clearinghouses, inadequacies and inconsistencies in criminal parental abduction statutes, and potential civil liability of police officers who recover the child. A digest of criminal appellate decisions is provided. Along with each identified obstacle to recovery are recommendations for remedying the problem. These are directed to Congress, State legislators, law enforcement, prosecutors, to the civil bench and bar and to the public as appropriate. The perspective of custodial parents who are left behind and the civil attorneys and law enforcement officers who helped them was gained through a survey of 52 closed cases. These findings are also reported. The extensive appendices to this report include a paper describing the pros and cons of existing legal procedures for enforcing a custody order, sample forms to be used with existing legal procedures and summaries of both civil and criminal appellate decisions. Tables