Yesterday, my partner, Apple Sulit-Perelejo wrote about the case of Maria Jose Carrascosa, who was found guilty of eight counts of interference with custody and one count of contempt of court. Carrascosa had taken her daughter, Victoria, to Spain in 2005 while involved in a custody dispute with her ex-husband. A family court judge in August 2006 then granted sole custody of the girl to Innes and ordered Carrascosa to bring her back to New Jersey within 10 days. She failed to comply though and was arrested in November 2006 for contempt of court. She has remained in jail since then and has since been charged with the more serious, criminal offence of interference of custody. She can receive a sentence of up to ten years. Yet, as Apple pointed out, the child’s father does not have custody due to a jurisdictional dispute between the United States and Spain, and the child is with neither parent.
This case brings to mind what was truly one of the most upsetting times in my career as a family lawyer. While I have been involved in several international parental kidnapping cases, approximately ten years ago, I represented a father of a teen age son whose mother absconded with the child to South America, to a country which is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, the international treaty which deals with these types of situations. The parents had shared parenting time, and during a period during which the mother had the child, they left the country and fled to the jungles of South America. Many, many months later, after Herculean efforts by investigators, the United States and the consulates of several countries through which the mother had passed, the pair was located and returned to my client. Sadly, while in South America, the child had been mistreated by the mother, sent to the jungles to work and returned with various emotional issues. Fast forward several years later, and luckily, the teenager had completed therapy, was in college and had reunited with his family. His mother was sentenced to a prison term for her actions.
While these types of extreme actions are rare, they are real, and children are injured both emotionally, and in some cases physically. It is always difficult when faced with a situation in which your client believes that a child may be of risk to be kidnapped by the other parent. Angry parents often say things in the context of custody dispute in order to disparage the other parent. Yet in some cases, the fear is warranted, and appropriate steps must be taken in order to protect the child in question. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com), has resources for parents. Additionally, there are steps that parents can takew ith the assistance of their counsel in the context of their divorce or custody proceedings in order to prevent a parental abduction, or at least be prepared in the event it happens.
The biggest concern, of course, is the effect on the children are the victims of these situations. Parental abductions represent parental alienation at its worst, and the victim is always the child.