The thought that the other parent might try and take your child or children to live in a foreign country is one of the most frightening in any international divorce situation. The knowledge that the United States does not really have effective border controls to stop someone from leaving only adds to this fear.
The first step in addressing this fear, then, is awareness of the possibility and the risks.
Has your spouse ever spoken of living in another country?
Does he or she have a realistic chance of moving and living in another country? Does he or she have citizenship, family, assets, a place to live or the possibility of a job there?
Next, it is important to have an idea of where the other spouse might go. It is harder to get children into and back out of some countries than others.
The second step is knowing what measures you can take to protect against the unwanted removal of your children. On one end of the spectrum are self-help steps: Getting control or at least copies of passports is a key one. Registering with the U.S. Department of State’s passport control program is another. Staying in touch with your children and alerting others, including schools, to your fears can help. And talking with your children about your concerns can help with older children. You can discuss with them the possibility of a sudden trip and how they can inform you or others if they think this is happening.
Other steps can include helping the other parent have fewer reasons for moving away in the first place.
On the other end of the spectrum are steps you can take in court. Getting a formal custody agreement or court order that includes some magic legal words about where the children are to live, or how future changes are to be decided, is important. You may even want wording that prevents a move or vacations outside your state or the United States. And in extreme cases you may want to ask the court to take passports or to issue what is called an order of “ne exeat”—a court order that the children cannot be removed —either as part of a custody case, or as an emergency action.
So although there is no fool-proof, guaranteed way, to prevent what is sometimes called international parental child abduction, you can take steps to minimize the possibility. For more specific advice and ideas in your own particular situation, consult with an attorney who has experience in these issues.