As our society becomes increasingly globalized, marriages between Americans and people who have dual citizenship or maintain residences and family or business ties in other countries are more common than ever. When these couples divorce, if they have children, American parents may have a valid concern that their co-parent will take their children overseas and not return them.

Regulations That Address International Child Abduction

The U.S. government is on the side of parents with custody rights. Most states recognize the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA). Parents can file a petition under UCAPA to ask a court to limit your co-parent's right to take your children outside the U.S. Even if you don't do this when you work out your custody agreement, you can seek a modification if you have reason to be concerned about your children being taken abroad without your permission.

Parents also have the Hague Convention on their side. If the country where the child has been taken is one of the signers to that international treaty and is 16 or younger, its government is required to help the parent in America get the child back, assuming that he or she has custody rights.

When children are taken to a country that hasn't signed that treaty, getting them back may be more complicated. Either way, you and your attorney will likely have to deal with a foreign court. Depending on the country, you may be dealing with people who have significantly different cultural or religious beliefs than you have. These may affect how they feel about the roles of mothers and fathers.

What to Do If Your Child Has Been Taken Outside the U.S.

If your children have been taken outside the U.S., it's essential to try to maintain contact with them while you seek their return. Work to communicate with them via phone, email, video chat, letters and by any means possible. You want to show the courts that you and your children have a strong bond and that you're doing everything possible to maintain it. If possible, it may be necessary to travel overseas and perhaps even live there for a time to be with your children.

The State Department has procedures you can follow to help prevent your child from being taken out of the country without your permission. Your family law attorney can also provide valuable guidance, both as you work out your custody agreement, if you are seeking to modify it or if you need to get your child back.