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Federal and State Laws Against Parental Kidnapping

DeTommaso Law Group

What Is Parental Kidnapping?

Parental kidnapping refers to a situation where a parent takes their child in violation of the other parent or guardian’s legal rights. Parental kidnapping can occur when a parent exceeds the terms of an existing visitation order by refusing to exchange custody of their child with the other parent. Parental kidnapping also occurs when a parent leaves the state with their child for the purpose of taking advantage of another state’s child custody laws—an act known as “forum shopping.”

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act

The UCCJEA serves as part of the legal regime against parental kidnapping. All fifty states have adopted the provision of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The UCCJEA was developed to quell the chaos between state courts with competing claims for exercising child custody jurisdiction. The UCCJEA establishes uniform interstate standards for determining which state has priority jurisdiction for deciding child custody proceedings.

The UCCJEA gives priority to the child’s home state for matters involving the modification and enforcement of an existing custody order. The UCCJEA allows state courts to decline jurisdiction if the child and their family have a stronger connection with another state, and it would be in the child’s best interests to resolve custody issues in that state.

Under the UCCJEA, establishes the following classes of state jurisdiction for custody cases:

  • Home state jurisdiction: The UCCJEA’s defines “home state” to mean the state where the child resided in the past six months. The child’s home state has priority jurisdiction for child custody issues.
  • Significant connection jurisdiction: A state with which a child has a significant connection may exercise jurisdiction to determine child custody issues if doing so serves the child’s best interests.
  • Emergency jurisdiction: A court can exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction if the child is physically present in the state, and the exercise of jurisdiction is necessary to protect the child from threatened harm.
  • Best interests of the child: If no other state has asserted jurisdiction, any state can assume child custody jurisdiction if doing so promotes the best interests of the child.

The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act

IN 1980, the United States passed a federal law known as the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) to prevent a parent from interfering with the other parent’s custodial rights by engaging in forum shopping. The PKPA establishes a uniform national standard for determining which state has jurisdiction to make child custody rulings in cases involving parents residing in different states.

Under the PKPA, the custody decree of one state is enforceable in all other states. The act recognizes that the child’s home state has initial jurisdiction for matters concerning custody of a minor child. The PKPA defines “home state” to mean the state where a child most recently lived with their parents or legal guardian or caretaker.

Other state courts may not modify a custody order if the home state has continuing jurisdiction. If no state qualifies as a “home state” under the PKPA, those states with significant contacts with the child may exercise jurisdiction for child custody matters.

Importantly, because it is a federal law, the application of the PKPA overrides any conflicting provisions of the UCCJEA.

Get Comprehensive Legal Representation at DeTommaso Law Group

Do you need an experienced legal advisor to guide you through matters concerning child custody or parental kidnapping? If so, you should contact DeTommaso Law Group. Our legal team has valuable experience dealing with various family law issues, including matters concerning interstate recognition and enforcement of existing child custody orders.

Please call our office at (908) 274-3028 or visit us online to arrange for a free consultation regarding the merits of your case.

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