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International Parental Child Abduction

Child Custody & Visitation

This article discusses international parental child abduction.

If someone takes your child to another country and you cannot see them, you have options. Here, learn about what the law says and what you can do in and out of the court system.

What is "international parental child abduction"?

International parental child abduction is the removal or retention of a child outside of the child’s country of habitual residence in violation of another parent or legal guardian’s custody rights. In Texas, the legal word for custody is conservatorship.

A child’s country of habitual residence is usually the country where the child has lived permanently or has spent most of their time.

The Office of Children’s Issues within the U.S. Department of State is the U.S. government office that aims to prevent international parental child abduction. This includes a child’s abduction from out of the United States and from another country into the United States. The Office of Children’s Issues can help children and families involved in abduction cases. The Office of Children’s Issues also promotes the objectives of the Hague Abduction Convention.

What is the Hague Abduction Convention?

The Hague Abduction Convention is a treaty that many countries, including the United States, have joined—see the list of U.S. Hague Convention Treaty partner countries.

One purpose of the Hague treaty is to protect children from the harmful effects of international abduction by a parent. Another purpose is to organize or secure the effective rights of access to a child. The idea is that custody and visitation matters should generally be decided by the proper court in the country of the child’s habitual residence.

Depending on the country, U.S. court orders involving a child may not be recognized, especially by those countries that are not partners to the Hague treaty. Also, each country is considered a sovereign nation. This means that other countries and nations cannot interfere with each other’s legal systems, judiciaries (i.e., court system), or law enforcement.

Overall, the Hague Convention focuses on the child, providing a shared legal remedy among partner countries. Read more about the Hague Abduction Convention treaty. You should speak to a family law attorney immediately if your child has been abducted and is in another country.

How do I apply for help under the Hague Convention?

You must fill out thisapplication. Completing the Hague Application can be difficult. Read the instructions or speak with an attorney who may be able to help you fill it out the forms under a limited scope representation agreement. The application also is provided in Spanish.

How can I stop an international parental child abduction?

At the federal level, a parent should immediately inform the Office of Children’s Issues of any changes to your contact information. You can reach the Office 24 Hours a day, by phone at 888-407-4747 or by email at

You should also locate and submit to authorities all documents relevant to the application or issuance of a passport to your child. These documents may include, but are not limited to:

  • Divorce decrees;
  • Custody orders, like a “Final Order in Suit Affecting Parent Child Relationship,” “Final Order in Suit to Modify Parent-Child Relationship,” or any order establishing paternity;
  • Protective Orders;
  • Warrants; and
  • Police reports.

A parent should also immediately contact law enforcement. An immediate report to law enforcement may keep your child from being abducted. The steps are:

Be prepared to provide a complete description of your child, a birth certificate, and recent photos. You do not need a court order to have your child entered into the NCIC database, but it can be helpful to have a copy. Your child’s entry as a missing person in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) will alert state's troopers and highway patrol. This can widen the search for your child. When working with law enforcement, always ask for the officer's full name, badge identification, email, direct phone number, and a dispatch line with 24-hour coverage.

Report your child missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Missing Child Clearinghouse can be found here or you can call them the 24-hour hotline at 800-843-5678.

Contact the Texas Department of Public Safety Motor Vehicle Registration Department to report the car the other parent may be driving.

Finally, contact airlines and stationed airport law enforcement if you know the departing airport. The United States has no exit controls, so abductions can only be prevented if the appropriate authorities at ports of exit are made aware of courts orders that prohibit travel prior to departure. When contacting airlines, ask to speak with an airline corporate security officer. Be ready to explain the situation and be ready to prove you have a parental relationship to the childincluding having a birth certificate, an acknowledgment of paternity, and most importantly, a court order. Ask if there is a reservation under your child's name. This can help organize all efforts to stop your child’s abduction.

At the state level, a parent must have a copy of their court order. The International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, Title III 6 U.S.C. 241the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in coordination with the U.S. Department of State and other federal agencies, have established a program that tries to prevent the departure of a child from the United States when presented with an order from a court of competent jurisdiction which prohibits the child’s removal from the United States.

I do not have a court order yet, how can I get one?

You will need to file a lawsuit immediately. If you and the other parent are not married, you need to file a suit affecting the parent-child relationship.  If you are married, you need to file a divorce.

A court order is necessary to prevent the departure of a child. You should consider hiring a family law attorney to discuss what protections you can include in an order to prevent international parental child abductions. A parent can ask for a temporary order or a temporary restraining order in emergency situations, such as an international parental child abduction.

Law enforcement may not be able to act unless you provide a court order that specifically prohibits your child's travel outside of the United States. A court order that enjoins or prevents the removal of the minor child from the court's jurisdiction, from Texas, or from the country will give law enforcement more authority to prevent abduction.

Once a lawsuit is filed, many Texas counties have standing orders that come into effect. These standing orders typically prevent parents from doing certain things while a case is pending. One of the most important limitations is that a parent cannot remove the child from the court’s jurisdiction, the State of Texas, or from out of the country during the pendency of the case.

I have a court order but it does not address international abductions and I need to change my order to include protections. What should I do?

You will need to file a modification lawsuit. If you need an order right away, in emergency situations, the court can render a temporary order or a temporary restraining order to address an international parental child abduction.

How do I know what conservatorship rights I have to my child?

For separated or divorced parents, the conservatorship rights a parent has to a child will be included in their court order. You must read your court order carefully. If you do not understand your court order, then you should speak with a private attorney.

If parents are appointed as joint managing conservators of the child, they usually share rights and duties over the child. These rights and duties explain the decisions a parent can make for their child. Texas Family Code 153.134. These rights and duties are either:

  1. Independent to each parent, meaning each parent can decide without the consent of the other parent;
  2. By the joint agreement of the parents, meaning the parents must agree to the decision; or
  3. Exclusive to one parent, meaning that the parent is the sole decision-maker. Texas Family Code 153.071.

What kind of language does my court order need to help prevent international abduction of my child?

Your court order should include provisions on passport provisions, including which parent conservator can apply for a passport for the child, renew the child’s passport, and maintain possession of the child’s passport.

The Court must find the following, which must be included in your court order:

  1. That the United States is the country of habitual residence of your child.
  2. That credible evidence has been presented that there is a potential risk of international abduction of the child.

The Court may find the following, which should also be stated in your court order:

  1. That the other parent has taken, enticed away, kept, withheld, or concealed the child in violation of your right of possession of or access to the child.
  2. That the other parent has previously threatened to take, entice away, keep, withhold, or conceal the child in violation of your right of possession of or access to the child.
  3. That the other parent lacks a financial reason to stay in the United States and is financially independent, able to work outside the United States, or unemployed (or all three).
  4. That the other parent has recently engaged in planning activities that could facilitate the removal of the child from the United States, including quitting a job, selling a primary residence, terminating a lease, closing bank accounts, liquidating assets, hiding or destroying documents, applying for a passport or visa or obtaining other travel documents for the child, as well as applying to obtain the child’s birth certificate or school and medical records.
  5. That the other parent has a history of domestic violence.
  6. That the other parent has a criminal history or a history of violating court orders.
  7. That the other parent has strong familial, emotional, or cultural ties to another named country, which is not a signatory to or compliant with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
  8. That the other parent lacks strong ties to the United States.
  9. That the other parent is undergoing a change in status with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service that would adversely affect their ability to legally remain in the United States.
  10. That the other parent’s application for United States citizenship has been denied by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service.
  11. That the other parent has forged or presented misleading or false evidence to obtain a visa, a passport, a Social Security card, or another identification card or has made a misrepresentation to the United States government.
  12. That the other parent has ties to another named country that:
    1. Presents obstacles to the recovery and return of a child who is abducted to the country from the United States.
    2. Has no legal mechanisms for immediately and effectively enforcing an order regarding the possession of or access to the child issued by Texas.
    3. Has local laws or practices that would enable the other parent to prevent you from contacting the child without due cause, restrict you from freely traveling to or exiting from the country because of your gender, nationality, or religion, restrict the child’s ability to legally leave the country after the child reaches the age of majority because of the child’s gender, nationality, or religion.
    4. Is included by the United States Department on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
    5. Is a country for which the United States Department of State has issued a travel warning to the United States citizens regarding travel to the country.
    6. Does not have an embassy of the United States in the country.
    7. Is engaged in active military action or war.
    8. Is not a party to and compliant with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction according to the most recent report on compliance issued by the United States Department of State.
    9. Does not provide for the extradition of a parental abductor and the return of the child to the United States.
    10. Poses a risk that the child’s physical health or safety would be endangered in the named country because of specific circumstances relating to the child, human rights violations committed against children, including arranged marriages, lack of freedom of religion, child labor, lack of child abuse laws, female genital mutilation, and slavery.

Your court order can also prohibit ("enjoin") the other parent and any person acting on behalf of that parent from removing the child from Texas or the United States. This could include the other parent surrendering any passport issued in the name of your child and prohibiting the other parent from applying for a new or replacement passport or international travel visa on behalf of your child.

The court order should include language on providing the United States Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues and any named country’s consulate or embassy with a certified copy of the court order, as explained above.

Read Texas Family Code 153.501 and 153.502 for abduction risk factors.

You should consider hiring an attorney to help you draft an order that includes these terms or for full court representation to get this type of extraordinary relief.

What else can a judge order to ensure prevention of parental child international abduction?

The judge can name the parent who does not present a risk of abducting the child as the sole managing conservator. The court can also require the parent who poses a risk of abducting the child to only have supervised visitation with the child.

The court also has the right to order the other parent to execute a bond or security. This is a set amount of money the other parent must pay to be held in trust or in the court registry to help offset the cost of recovering the child if the other parent abducts them to a foreign country.

Read Texas Family Code 153.503.

Is international travel the same as international abduction?

Some court orders may include provisions for parents who wish to travel internationally with their child. Travel is different than any permanent change in the child’s residency.

Read more about travel during your periods of possession with your child.

If my child is living in another country, and the other parent is denying me possession and access to our child, what can be done?

Partner countries to the Hague Convention help promote the peaceful enjoyment of visitation and access rights of parents in other partner countries. You can apply through the Convention to establish or enforce your access and visitation rights to your children living in other partner countries. 

Can I get attorney’s fees if the other parent abducts our children?

Yes, it is possible. First, you must file an enforcement lawsuit against the violating parent. The court must find the other parent failed to comply with certain terms of your court order, such as any geographic restriction, travel restrictions, or your possession and access schedule. The court can then consider ordering the violating parent to pay your reasonable attorney's fees and all court costs in addition to any other remedy, like makeup visits. See Texas Family Code 157.167(b). Read about how to enforce a visitation order.  

Additionally, if the court finds that the enforcement of the order with which the other parent failed to comply was necessary to ensure the child's physical or emotional health or welfare, the attorney’s fees and costs may be enforced by any means available for the enforcement of child support, including contempt, but not including income withholding. This could include any requests for habeas corpus when there is a court order or a writ of attachment when there is not a court order.

There is also a Hague Convention Attorney Network. These network attorneys are all volunteers and represent applicant-parents in Hague Convention return and access cases in the United States on a pro bono or reduced fee basis.

Can criminal charges be brought for international parental child abduction?

International parental child abduction is crime in every state and the District of Columbia under specified circumstances. International parental child abduction is also a federal crime under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA).

It is a parent’s decision whether to pursue criminal charges against the taking parent. You should consult with an attorney and consider the impact pressing criminal charges would have on your efforts to secure your child’s return. The Office of Children’s Issues can provide information about U.S. laws that make parental abduction a crime and resources for how to pursue a criminal warrant.

My child is another country. Do I need an attorney there to help me?

It may be a good idea to find an attorney in the foreign country where your child is located. This may help in the return of your child. Having an attorney in that country can help you learn about and navigate that country’s legal system.

For information about hiring an attorney, read about retaining a foreign attorney.  Most U.S. Embassies have lists of attorneys available online. Visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website for a full listing.

I have a court order from another country and my child is in the United States. What can I do?

The Hague Convention is not an exclusive remedy for parents. Parents may use other laws for the return of, or access to, a child that is in the United States.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), is a uniform law enacted in some form in forty-nine U.S. states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the District of Columbia. The UCCJEA requires state courts to enforce child custody and visitation determinations made in a foreign country where the foreign court substantially conformed with the UCCJEA’s jurisdictional standards. Parents can get relief from a U.S. court as long as all parties had notice and an opportunity to be heard.

Additionally, the UCCJEA provides expedited enforcement procedures and procedures to register custody and visitation determinations in advance of enforcement. The UCCJEA also regulates when a court in the United States has jurisdiction to make or modify a custody order, and when to defer to courts in other states or countries.

Here is a list of citations to each U.S. state’s version of the UCCJEA laws.

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