Prosecution for parental kidnapping raises custody issues

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Missouri residents may have seen media coverage of the case of the pastor who is accused of helping a woman flee the country with her child in violation of a family court order granting visitation to the woman’s ex-partner, also female. The defense has raised some interesting questions regarding child custody determinations in same-sex partnership dissolution, and the result could possibly strengthen or weaken the position of same-sex, non-custodial parents in regard to enforcement of visitation rights in the future.

The couple dissolved their partnership in 2003, and since that time the non-custodial mother of the girl had regular visitation. It was in 2009 when she arrived at her daughter’s home to pick her up for a weekend visitation when she felt the horrible sinking feeling: nobody was home.

The prosecution focuses on the man, a pastor of the church attended by the custodial mother, who allegedly helped the woman to flee the country with her young daughter and arranged for their shelter and protection once they reached their destination in the Central American country of Nicaragua. The man could face up to three years in prison if convicted of aiding international parental kidnapping. It is unclear if the woman may face similar charges if she is returned to the United States.

The timing of this is also important, since the woman fled the country about a month after a judge had ruled she would have to relinquish custody if she kept violating her ex-partner’s visitation rights with the child.

Violating custody and visitation rights is a serious issue and one that family law courts never take lightly, regardless of the sex of the parents. When one party refuses to follow court orders, the court may award custody to the non-custodial parent or take other action to protect the best interests of the child.

Source: Burlington Free Press, “Ex-partner of missing mom tells her story in civil union custody dispute,” Wilson Ring, Aug. 10, 2012

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