Around the end of October 2020, you may remember an Amber Alert issued for two Kansas girls, 7-year old Nora Jackson and 3-year-old Aven Jackson. They were abducted by their father, Donny Jackson. The girls were safely recovered by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol near Erick, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, two boys believed to be the girls’ siblings were later discovered dead. At the time of this writing, he has not been charged for the deaths of the boys. It is hard to believe that things could escalate to this level, but it is not uncommon for parents to kidnap their own children. This is something many families have to deal with and it is important to take the appropriate steps to prevent parental kidnapping.
There are two main ways parental kidnapping can occur:
- The parent violates a custody agreement and takes off with the child
- There is no custody agreement in place, and one parent leaves with the child without consent from the other parent.
To determine if it is truly parental kidnapping, it will depend on whether there is a court-ordered custody agreement in place. Violation of a custody order can result in the parent violating the order being charged with contempt and punished by the court. For example, many custody orders do not allow one parent to take the child to another state without consent from the other parent.
If there is no custody order in place, which is often the case during a separation, things can become a bit more complex. Complications arise because there are no guidelines set forth by the courts pertaining to custody, visitation, and so forth. Technically, a parent is not violating a court order by leaving the state with the children if there is no court order. If a child is believed to be at substantial risk of bodily harm or sexual abuse, an emergency custody order is highly recommended. This order does not require the typical notice and service requirements and can be issued much faster than the standard custody orders.
What does the court consider to be “substantial risk or bodily harm?” You may also hear it referred to as “serious physical injury.” This means that either:
- The physical injury can create a substantial risk of death, or
- The physical injury can cause long-lasting disfigurement, impairment of health, or function of any bodily member or organ.
- Additionally, a judge has the ability to consider the specific facts of each case and determine whether an alleged victim has suffered substantial risk or bodily harm or whether the accused acted with intent to seriously inflict bodily harm.
You should also avoid leaving the state with your kids without the consent of the other parent or the appropriate court orders even if you think you are doing the right thing. There have been cases where an abused spouse left the state to get away from the abuser to protect the children, however, abusers can in fact obtain an emergency custody order themselves because you took the kids out of state without his or her consent. Abusers can be very manipulative and temporarily convince parties involved that he or she is the victim. In this case, it is imperative that you obtain a domestic violence protective order to protect you and your children. The last thing you want to do is to give the abusive parent any sort of means to gain custody of the children.
Kevin Hickey Law Partners is a full-service law firm with an outstanding team of professionals who works tirelessly and diligently for our clients each day. If you fear your children may be taken without your consent or if you are considering leaving the state with them, it is important to get the appropriate legal counsel to protect your rights and more importantly the safety of your children. Call 479.434.2414 to reach a professional at the River Valley office or 479.802.6560 for the Northwest Arkansas office.