Child Custody: Don’t Take My Kids

iStock_000016682576XSmallWe recently blogged about the case of Paul Eksteen, a New Jersey father fighting for the return of his 11-year-old son from Paraguay. Eksteen’s son left the U.S. with his mother in late 2013, despite a court order demanding the mother relinquish the son’s passport. Eksteen recently filed international kidnapping charges against his ex-wife and is attempting to have his son returned to New Jersey to settle the child custody dispute.

Cases such as Paul Eksteen’s highlight the dire consequences and legal charges that can result when serious child custody disputes go unresolved. If you believe your former spouse has plans to flee the state or country with your child, or if other problems have cropped up with your parenting arrangement, including tense relations, failure to comply with the existing order, or even parental alienation, you may be wondering how you can safeguard yourself and your children from possible worst case scenarios, including parental abduction.

What can you do to keep your kids safe? Here are five actions to consider:

1. If you have reason to believe your child’s other parent may flee with the purpose of kidnapping your child, don’t keep these worries to yourself. Get back in touch with your family law attorney. He or she will able to guide you in going before the courts to make your case. If you can convince a judge that your concerns about the other parent’s conduct are reasonable based on presented evidence (see below), the court can then take steps to limit the other parent’s ability to carry through with such actions. This could include limiting contact with the child to supervised visitation or otherwise prohibiting contact until issues are resolved. In the event of the threat of international child kidnapping, the courts may seize your child’s passport so s/he cannot leave the country.

2. Attempt to get an emergency Temporary Restraining Order. If the conduct of the other parent is threatening, harassing, or violent towards you and/or your child, you may be able to seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) against this person by visiting your local police department or family court to fill out the appropriate paperwork. See How to Get a NJ Temporary Restraining Order for more on the TRO process and to see the actual paperwork.

3. In the event of imminent danger, contact the police to file a NJ criminal complaint against the other parent. If the other parent is in the process of fleeing the jurisdiction in violation of a court order or with the purpose of kidnapping your child, call 911.

4. Keep your child’s school or daycare provider updated on pertinent changes to visitation or child custody. If your child’s school has your original custody order on file, be sure to provide any updated court paperwork that denies or limits the other parent’s access to your child. According to N.J.A.C. 10:122-6.5, schools must be given a court order if a non- custodial parent has been denied access to the child or only granted limited custody. When handing over the paperwork, also take another look at your child’s emergency contact form and make adjustments to remove the other parent’s name. This reduces the possible mistake of allowing the parent access should you not be reachable if your child requires sudden early pick up.

5. Document everything. Going to court with a “hunch” that the other parent is planning to abduct your child probably won’t get you very far or, in some cases, could potentially be viewed parental alienation on your part. The best way to avoid any confusion over what is happening is to gather together every bit of evidence you can to prove your point. Is your former spouse failing to follow the current custody order? Did you find out that your former spouse posted on Facebook about accepting a new job in a different state and moving soon (and these are things you knew nothing about)? Has your child mentioned odd things the other parent has said or done? Keep a log of all this with as much as “hard evidence” in the form of texts, emails, receipts, bits of conversation, etc., as possible. This is the kind of information the courts will accept and examine.

Which of these steps are best for you to take? If you are concerned about the serious issue of parental kidnapping, please contact us to speak with one of our child custody attorneys. Start putting your mind at ease by scheduling your confidential consultation with a Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC attorney today.