PA enacts new law to prevent child abduction

“PA General Assembly Enacts New Law to Prevent Child Abduction”

Each year thousands of children are abducted in the United States. Of those abductions, 78% are perpetrated by a family member. In 2014, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA) to augment existing legislation intended to prevent child abductions in the context of family disputes.

The UCAPA is a complement to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) and Parental Kidnaping Act of 1980. The UCAPA applies to cases where a court has yet to enter a decree in custody, intrastate cases, emergency situations and cases in which certain risk factors exist and the current child-custody order, or determination, lacks abduction prevention measures.

An action for abduction prevention measures may be brought by a court on its own motion, a party to the custody case or a prosecutor. The individual seeking abduction prevention measures for the child must file a petition with the court that has jurisdiction over the subject child. Emergency jurisdiction can also be established pursuant to the UCCJEA if a child is “subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse. This Act equates a credible risk of abduction with threatened mistreatment or abuse for emergency jurisdiction purposes.”

The contents of the petition must specify the risk factors for abduction in addition to the relevant factors to determine the risk of abduction. Certain biographical information must also be included as well as information on any prior actions related to domestic violence and/or abduction. Additionally, the filing party must also provide a statement regarding any prior arrests for domestic violence or child abuse by either party.

There are over thirteen risk factors for abduction, including multiple subparts, that a court will consider to determine if there is a risk of abduction. These factors have been developed through extensive studies of child abductions and constitute a summary of what has been present in past cases. Research has shown that “parents who have made credible threats to abduct a child or have a history are particularly high risk especially when accompanied by other factors, such as quitting a job, selling a home, and moving assets.” However, no single factor is predictive of an abduction. Courts will look at all of the facts and circumstances surrounding a given case to analyze whether there is a credible risk of abduction.
If the court finds credible evidence that the child is at risk for abduction, it will enter an abduction prevention order. Under this order, the court has the option to evoke several remedies to protect the child and prevent a kidnaping. The court can implement one or more of the following:

  1. Restrictions on the child’s ability to travel to foreign countries without permission from the petitioning parent or order of court;
  2. Restrictions on the ability of the respondent to obtain a replacement passport for the child;
  3. Imposition of supervised custody or visitation for the respondent until such time that the court deems it is no longer necessary;
  4. Require the respondent to post bond as a deterrent to abduction; and/or
  5. If there risk of imminent abduction, a court may issue a warrant to take physical custody of the child. For a comprehensive list of all available remedies in an abduction prevention order, see Section 8 of the UCAPA “Provisions and Measures to Prevent Abduction.”

An abduction prevention order remains in effect until the earliest of:

  1. the time specified in the order;
  2. the emancipation of the child;
  3. the child’s eighteenth (18th) birthday; or the time the order is modified, revoked, vacated, or superseded by a court with jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.

By providing courts will a tangible list of risk factors to assess the risk of abduction and a system for implementing appropriate prevention measures, the UCAPA will be an compelling piece of legislation in the fight to prevent child abduction in Pennsylvania.

 

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About the author

About Melissa Towsey

Melissa graduated from the University of Virginia in 2002 with a double major in Sociology and Foreign Affairs. After working for several years as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., she attended The University of Villanova School of Law and graduated in 2010. During law school, Melissa was involved in several public interest organizations and published an article in Villanova’s Environmental Law Journal, “Something Stinks: The Need for Environmental Regulation of Puppy Mills” 21 Vill. Envtl. L.J. 159 (2010) http://www.animallaw.info/articles/arus21villenvtllj159.htm. After law school, Melissa clerked for the Honorable Thomas G. Parisi, Administrative Judge of the Criminal Division in the Court of Common Pleas, Berks County.