New Law: Child Abduction Prevention in Custody Disputes

Pennsylvania passed only one law in 2014 that amended the Domestic Relations Act. It is the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act, found at 23 Pa.C.S.A. 5201.

The Act aims to create guidelines for courts to follow in custody disputes. Under the Act, the court may order abduction prevention measures in a child custody proceedings where there is a "credible risk" of abduction. A party can also file a petition seeking abduction prevention measures. Finally, prosecutors can also seek such measures.

A petition seeking abduction prevention measures must specify the risk factors that justify such measures. Factors in determining the risk of abduction include:

1. Previous abductions or attempted abductions;

2. Threats to abduct;

3. Warning signs such as quitting a job, selling a house, closing bank accounts or applying for a passport.

4. Domestic violence, child abuse or child neglect

5. Refusal to obey a custody order

6. The strength of ties to Pennsylvania and the U.S.

7. The strength of ties to a foreign country

8. Ties to a country that is not a party to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction

9. A change in immigration status in the U.S.

10.Denial of an application of U.S. citizenship

11.Forged or false evidence given to the U.S. government

12.Multiple aliases; and

13.Any other relevant conduct.

Potential abduction prevention measures available to the court include prohibitions on: removing the child from PA or the U.S., taking the child from school or daycare or approaching the child outside of supervised visitation.

The Court can also require a party to surrender the child's passport, require the child to be placed in the US State Departments Child Passport Issuance Alert Program and prohibiting application for a replacement passport.

Regarding regular custody time, the court can limit visitation or require visitation to be supervised, require a bond to be posted and require education on the harmful effects of abduction.

In extreme cases, to prevent an imminent abduction the court issue a warrant to take physical custody of the child, direct the police to locate and return the child or grant other appropriate relief.

The Act also places strict requirements on what must be plead in a petition seeking abduction prevention and what must be placed in the court order.

The Act is a "Uniform" law, meaning that it has been (or will be) enacted by other states in substantially similar form.