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International child custody cases hard for parents, government

Texas residents may have seen a few international child custody cases receiving publicity lately, including the trial of a New Hampshire mother who stole her 8-year-old daughter and ran away to Central America a decade ago. These stories demonstrate the complex issues at play when a child custody case crosses international borders.

According to data provided by the U.S. State Department, parents abducted at least 8,000 American children and fled to another country between 2008 and 2013. However, only half of these children have been returned to the United States even though there is an international treaty signed by 93 countries that is supposed to protect them. There are reportedly several reasons for this. One problem is that U.S. and international authorities often have difficulty locating the abducted child. This was an issue in the New Hampshire case. Another problem is that some countries that have signed the treaty are reluctant to cooperate with child custody proceedings. Also, the logistics of traveling back and forth for court hearings is financially burdensome for many parents.

Last year, Congress passed legislation designed to prevent parental international child abductions. The law requires the U.S. State Department to publish a yearly report listing each country that is sheltering an abducted American child in hopes they will be shamed into action. The law also provides a time schedule for actions the government can take to push for the return of abducted children to the U.S.

Any parent facing a child custody dispute may benefit by working with a family law attorney. Legal counsel could help negotiate visitation rights, resolve custody and relocation disputes and come up with an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.

Source: ABC News, "Complex Challenges Posed in International Child Abductions," Rik Stevens, May 10, 2015

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