Child custody disputes can cross all boundaries, whether they are city, county, state or national. Child custody cases can become not only international disputes, but they can also become a criminal matter, from Amber Alerts to the ‘International Cause Celebre’ ala Elian Gonzalez and the Goldmans and Brazil.
Once a court has made a child custody determination, there are usually two parties, the custodial parent and the non-custodial parent. The custodial parent is the person who has more the child in their care more than 50% of the time. The non-custodial parent has ‘visitation’ or ‘co-parenting time’ with the child.
The division of time and the sharing of the child can be emotionally taxing, and it frequently leads to disputes and sometimes people take matters into their own hands, and either withhold the child from the other parent, or worse, move without a court order.
Moving and withholding the child can be both a civil issue and a criminal issue. Civil courts can punish the wrongful withholding by changing the custodial percentages and arrangements.
When custody violations become criminal it is a federal issue since 1993 when the U.S. Congress dealt with international child abductions. It passed the International Parental Kidnapping Act (IPKA), 18 U.S.C. §1204. The Act imposes criminal penalties upon parents who illegally abduct children.
The IPKA is a criminal statute, which is different from the International Child Abduction and Recovery Act (ICARA), which provides for civil remedies for a parent whose child custody is being wrongfully interrupted by the other parent.
It is a federal felony for a parent to wrongfully remove or retain a child outside the United States. There are three defenses to the crime 1) The defendant was granted custody or visitation pursuant to the UCCJEA, 2) the defendant is fleeing domestic violence, and 3) the defendant was unable to return a child to the custodial parent because of circumstances beyond their control.