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Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980 - An Idea Whose Time Has Come

NCJ Number
Children's Legal Rights Journal Volume: 2 Issue: 4 Dated: (January/February 1981) Pages: 10-12
Date Published
3 pages
The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980, which becomes effective in July 1981, has the promise of becoming a deterrent to the form of child abuse known more popularly as child snatching.
The legal system had inadvertently promoted child snatching because the lack of uniformity in child custody jurisdiction laws meant that many States remained free to modify decrees of sister States. It was not unusual for a court in one State to award custody to the mother while a court in another State almost simultaneously might award custody to the father. The act will make it more difficult for a parent who has lost in one court to seek legal custody in another State. A custody decree may still be modified by a court in another State, although two conditions must exist: it must be shown that the new State has jurisdiction to make a child custody determination and that the court of the other State no longer has jurisdiction or has declined to exercise its jurisdiction. Approximately 100,000 children are shifted from State to State and from one family to another every year while parents battle over custody in several State courts. As a result of this law, the legal system no longer encourages child snatching but actually forbids it. Parents who have been wrongfully deprived of custody will now be able to use the Federal Parent Locator Service to assist in locating kidnapped children. The act also revitalizes the Federal Fugitive Felon Act, enabling parental kidnapping cases to be investigated by the FBI. Finally, the law requires State courts to enforce and refrain from modifying custody and visitation decrees made by sister States. Despite these deterrents to child snatching, the law still is unclear if any assistance will be provided in returning the children to the custodial parent. Furthermore, only 38 States have laws which make child snatching a felony, and 55 percent of the children abducted are taken before the custodial parent can obtain a decree in court, allowing misuse of the law by the abducting parent. The law also cannot help in the return of children from foreign countries. Notwithstanding its limitations, fewer children and parents should suffer the anguish of child snatching as a result of this new law. One footnote is given.