Parental abduction can be traumatizing for both the children and their legal guardians. Unfortunately, Virginia parents seeking the return of internationally abducted children may face a long and complicated legal process.
The Code of Virginia outlines two classifications of parental abduction. When the abductor remains in-state but is deemed to be acting in contempt of court, the action may be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. When the parent takes the child across state lines and is held in contempt of court, however, the abduction may be categorized as a Class 6 felony.
The jurisdiction of visitation and custody in such cases is generally left to local and state authorities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal government steps in during instances of international parental kidnapping with the aid of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, which works to monitor the situation and provide support to the U.S. Attorney’s Offices.
Returning internationally kidnapped children to the United States can be difficult. The DOJ notes that the U.S. parent should consider carefully before traveling to attempt to recover the child. This may seem to be the easiest strategy to return the missing child but may actually introduce complications if the foreign parent has sought protection under his or her own legal system.
U.S. prosecutors cannot guarantee that children will be returned or that foreign courts will make custodial decisions in favor of the U.S. parent. Thus, negotiation between the U.S. Department of State and foreign agencies is generally the best approach to bringing the missing child safely back to Virginia. Such negotiations may be simplified if the foreign country involved is a signatory of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction.