For many parents in high-conflict or violent relationships, the fear of losing their children can be one of the worst parts of divorce or separation including a custody action. When your ex threatens to take your child out of Colorado, you need an experienced attorney who knows how to work quickly to protect your children and your parenting rights. Find out what you can do to prevent child abduction in Colorado.
This blog post will review parents’ authority to take children out of Colorado, before and after an order allocating parental responsibility has been entered. It will discuss the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA), and contempt proceedings that you can use if you find out your former spouse or partner is threatening to leave with your child.
Can Divorced Parents Take Their Children Out of Colorado?
Many divorces include one parent moving out of the family home. But state law prevents either parent from moving the child out of Colorado while a divorce case is pending. Instead, the move will have to wait until the Judgment of Divorce is entered. Even then, the moving parent may have to file a motion for relocation or ask the court to consider it as part of the initial parental responsibility allocation.
Once the final allocation of parental responsibility is entered, each parent may be allowed to take their children out of Colorado for vacation or to visit family as long as it happens during their parenting time, or with the other parent’s consent. However, your custody order may require your ex-spouse to give you advanced warning, a copy of their travel itinerary, or other information about their travels out of state.
UCAPA Gives Judges Authority to Proactively Prevent Abduction
All of this assumes that your ex will follow the rules and the court orders. The unfortunate truth is that sometimes parents try to take matters into their own hands. If your ex threatens to take your child out of Colorado, you will need to take immediate action to protect your child and make sure he or she does not become a victim of parental kidnapping.
Generally speaking, Colorado family courts are reactive. They respond to things that have already happened, rather than responding to what might become true. But when it comes to preventing parental kidnapping, the law makes an exception. The Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act allows a parent, guardian, or prosecutor to ask the court to take proactive steps to prevent a parent from taking a child out of Colorado. That could mean that a parent will take a child when he or she does not have custody or refuse to relinquish the child when his or her visitation is over. This law can apply whether or not there is an existing custody order, applying to anyone who has the legal right to file for custody.
To prevent parental kidnapping, a parent needs to file a petition with the court which “establishes a credible risk of abduction of the child.” In deciding whether that risk exists, the court can consider a number of factors:
- A history of previous abduction attempts
- Threats to abduct the child
- Actions suggesting the parent is getting ready to relocate (like quitting a job, selling a home, or closing bank accounts)
- Applications for passports or visas for the parent, child, or other family member
- Gathering the child’s birth certificate, school, or medical records
- Domestic violence, stalking, or child abuse or neglect
- Refusal to follow an existing child-custody determination
- A lack of connections between the parent and Colorado or the United States
- The strength of connections between the parent and some other state or country
- The country where the child will likely be taken and its laws and treaties regarding the return of abducted children
- The risk to the child of being taken to that country
- A parent’s change in immigration status
- If an application for U.S. citizenship was denied
- If the parent provided forged or false documents to the government to obtain travel documents, passports, visas, or other identification documents
- The use of aliases
- Any other information that would support the threat of abduction
UPACA Gives Judges the Power to Order Police to Return Children
In most custody and parenting time disputes, when a parent violates a court order or refuses parenting time, the other parent’s best option is to seek make-up time or ask for a finding of contempt of court. These are useful tools, if your ex still respects the court and its orders. However, some parents think they can take matters into their own hands and violate court orders without a second thought.
When that happens, the UPACA allows a Colorado family court judge to bring in backup. An abduction prevention order can direct law enforcement across the state to help you get your child back, wherever they ended up. The order can include a warrant which will allow the police to go into your ex’s home or the child’s school, or any other place the children might be in order to protect them and bring them back to you. When the abduction crosses state lines, the UPACA pairs up with the Federal Parental Kidnapping Act (PFKA) to allow you to register the order in other states and get help from the police there to bring your children home.
Preventing International Child Abduction Requires Creative Action
Domestic child abduction is bad enough, but when the borders crossed are between countries, the issues get even tougher. The Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction is a treaty that most western countries follow to help parents find and return their abducted children. But if your family has ties to many countries in the Middle East, Asia, or parts of Africa, you may have a harder time getting the help you need.
That is why the proactive parts of the UPACA are so important. By acting quickly, you and your family law attorney can get the court to intercede before your ex can get your child out of the country. Under the UPACA, a court is allowed to:
- Restrict a parent’s travel outside the state
- Require the parent to provide travel itinerary and documents for any trips
- Prohibit a child from being taken out of the state
- Remove a parent’s ability to pick the child up from school or child care
- Limit contact with the child to supervised visitation (at the abducting parent’s expense)
- Order that the child’s passport be surrendered to the court or your attorney
- Place the child’s name on the United States Department of State’s child passport issuance alert system (so you will know if an application is filed)
- Prevent the parent from obtaining a new or replacement passport or visa for the child
- Forward custody and abduction prevention orders to the appropriate courts and enforcement agencies in other countries
- Require the threatening parent to put up a financial bond to cover the cost of bringing the child home if something goes wrong
- Instruct the threatening parent to complete education on the harmful effects of child abduction
- Authorize police and law enforcement, including the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to take the child into custody rather than allow him or her to travel abroad
The court is allowed to enter this order “ex parte” — without notice to the other side — if necessary to protect the child. If that happens, you should plan to go back to court the next day so the court can hear your ex’s explanation for why they tried to take your child out of Colorado.
Child abduction cases are some of the toughest family court matters. They are incredibly time sensitive, and the risks to your child are very great. If your ex threatens to take your child out of Colorado, you need to talk to an experienced family law attorney right away. At Aviso Law, LLC, our custody attorneys know to act fast and give the court what it needs to enter an abduction prevention order. We will help you through the process and give you the urgency and attention these kinds of cases require. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.