Understanding Custody, Relocation and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act

Child custody is one of the most emotionally-charged issues in a divorce. Decisions such as how the children will be raised, where they will go to school, their religious upbringing, where the children will live and how the parents will split parenting time are often hotly disputed. When parents live in different locations – especially when they move to different states – determining who the children should live with can be even more complicated and distressing for everyone.

In a recent case reported by the Connecticut Post, a custody dispute is reaching not only across state bounds, but across countries. This international custody dispute involves two 13-year-old twin boys who were born in Texas and are American citizens, but who grew up primarily in Hungary. The main point of dispute before a federal trial court is whether a local Tennessee court or a court in Eastern Europe should decide custody. Also at issue is whether the American father wrongfully retained the boys in the United States when he enrolled them in school here after a visit with their paternal grandparents.

In the United States, the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act governs child custody and visitation disputes that cross state lines. According to the Act:

  • The court located in the child’s home state has jurisdiction over custody issues. The home state is the state where the child lived for at least six months prior to filing legal proceedings.
  • When the court in the home state issues an order, other state courts must give it full faith and credit. This means that parents cannot shop around for a court that is the most sympathetic to their requests.
  • If a parent takes the child across state lines in order to obtain custody or deprive the other parent of visitation, that parent may be charged with a federal crime.

Custody disputes are often far more complicated than either parent realizes. A trip to see family members across state lines may end up in unexpected court litigation or even criminal charges. Experienced family law attorneys help parents resolve custody issues and obtain post-divorce custody modifications.