In April, I was honored to be asked to present at the I Stand Parent Network in Washington, D.C. The network is composed of left-behind parents whose children have been internationally abducted by the other parent. The organization is both a support for these parents as well as an active voice of change and advocacy for children and left-behind parents. My presentation was the last one of the day, so I had the opportunity to watch presentations from federal agencies and individual legal counsel on a variety of topics. There was a heavy presence of legal and governmental representatives, attesting to the fact that the conversation around abduction is often relegated to the court room.
These parents have done everything they can to follow the available legal options to have their children legally returned under international treaties or bi-lateral agreements. Every single one of these parents has spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to try and find a way to have their children returned. Some have issued arrest warrants for the abducting parent in the event the abductor voluntarily returns to the U.S. Some have extradition orders in place in the country where the abducting parent is living. Some have agreed to mediation. But far too many have never received the necessary legal advice to proceed with their case in an informed manner. There are too few attorneys who are knowledgeable about these cases, and many parents have received incorrect legal advice. Parents often unwittingly participate in foreign custody hearings thinking they are being cooperative, only to have their parental rights terminated and to receive a legally binding court order of custody preventing them from moving forward with their case.
No one parent’s story mirrors another. Each abduction and/or denial of access is unique in its tragedy. As I spent time with the parents and listened to their stories, I was surprised by so much of it. I was surprised to discover how many fathers are the abductors. I was shocked at the means by which the abducting parents obtained travel documents to get the child out of the country. I was appalled at the impotence of the legal system to enforce international treaties and conventions. But what surprised me most was how incredibly strong each and every one of those parents was. It is an unimaginable tragedy to have your child kidnapped by the one other person in that child’s life who should care the most for him or her. Even worse is the almost universal occurrence of parental alienation, as the child’s abductor weaves stories of abandonment to prevent the child from wanting to reach out to the left-behind parent. May 25th is National Missing Children’s Day. To learn more about parentally abducted children, visit Return us Home.