FL Passes Law Against Parental Child Abduction – Or Does It?

This article tells us that the Florida Legislature has recently passed, with no ‘nay’ votes, a bill entitled the “Child Abduction Prevention Act.” (Capitol Soup, 4/22/10). The governor is expected to sign it. Here’s a link to the amended bill.

It’s a pretty serious bill. The legislators look like they’re intent on preventing parental child abduction out of Florida to another state or to a foreign country. So they’ve given judges the power to issue orders prohibiting a parent leaving the jurisdiction, requiring parents who seem to pose a risk of abduction to post bonds, requiring them to turn over children’s passports, notifying U.S. passport authorities of the order against the parent, refusing permission to travel to any country that’s not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction, and more.

Of course the judge has to hold a hearing and receive evidence that suggests that one parent may be about to flee the jurisdiction. That evidence includes not having secure ties to the community, not having financial interests in the community, obtaining passports, selling a residence, etc.

And no one pretends that the law will prevent all child abductions by parents. The Sean Goldman kidnapping is a good example. There, the mother said she was taking the boy to visit her relatives in Brazil and never returned. Nothing in the Florida bill would have prevented that from happening, even if Goldman had lived in that state.

Still, there are things legislation can accomplish and things it can’t, and, reading the bill, it’s clear that the lawmakers are trying to put teeth into the new law. They’re doing what they can to prevent parents from depriving their exes of contact via abduction.

Until, that is, they get to subsection 7 (b) on page nine. At that point, the elected representatives of the People carve out an exception through which one could fly a 747 en route to Japan. Although you can guess what it is, here’s the language:

This section, including the requirement to post a bond or other security, does not apply to a parent who, in a proceeding to order or modify a parenting plan or time-sharing schedule, is determined by the court to be a victim of an act of domestic violence or provides the court with reasonable cause to believe that he or she is about to become the victim of an act of domestic violence, as defined in s. 741.28. An injunction for protection against domestic violence issued pursuant to s. 741.30 for a parent as the petitioner which is in effect at the time of the court proceeding shall be one means of demonstrating sufficient evidence that the parent is a victim of domestic violence or is about to become the victim of an act of domestic violence, as defined in s. 741.28, and shall exempt the parent from this section, including the requirement to post a bond or other security.

So if a parent has “reasonable cause” to believe that “he or she” is about to become a victim of DV, “he or she” can abduct the kids to any location desired, including any non-Hague Convention country. Once there, as we’ve seen in Paul Toland and Christopher Savoie’s cases, the kids might as well be on the dark side of the moon for all the contact dad will have with them.

Significantly, all a litigant needs to show to a judge is that an injunction has issued against DV. Recall that I recently posted a piece on the process for getting a TRO in Florida. The “how to” website I linked to pronounced getting a TRO “easy,” and that looked to me like an accurate description. Just toddle down to the courthouse, ask the clerk to give you a form, fill it out, have it notarized and Presto!, there’s your TRO. No muss, no fuss, no evidence, no judge and no troublesome opposing party.

We know that a domestic violence TRO need neither allege nor prove that any form of actual violence has ever occurred. If the person requesting the order fears that it will, the TRO will issue. That’s true of an injunction against DV too; fear of DV is sufficient.

So what we have is this: any parent who wants to abscond with the kids can do so based on his/her ability to convince a judge of their belief that DV may occur. Given that the vast majoriy of DV TROs are issued to women, and that judges almost invariably “err on the side of caution” it’s beginning to look like Florida moms at least will have little to worry about from the “Child Abduction Prevention Act.”

Thanks to Barbara for the heads-up.

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