Four ways to prevent an international abduction

four ways to prevent an international abductionAccording to the U.S. State Department, in 2014 there were international child abduction cases pending in over 120 countries. In that same year, 169 new child abductions to Mexico alone were reported. Fortunately, in 2014 over 370 abducted children from the U.S. were returned home from around the world.

Four ways to prevent an international abduction

While in some cases there is a legal mechanism for the return of a child victimized by parental child abduction, prevention of an international parental child abduction can spare the child from such a traumatic experience. There are several steps parents can take to decrease the chances that an intended abduction to a foreign country is completed.

  • File for Custody. Having a formal custody order is the single most important measure a parent can take to prevent an abduction. With no custody order in effect, by default both parents have shared equal custody. As such, law enforcement responding to an alleged abduction is likely to advise the concerned parent that “this is a civil matter” and he or she should get a custody order. Once an order is in place, failure to comply with the terms of the order is a felony, and the police are more likely to assist in the recovery of the child.
  • Abduction Prevention Measures. Texas law provides for protections from abductions when the court finds there is a credible evidence of a threat of international abduction. Such measures may include supervised visitation, passport restrictions, bond requirements for visitation, and orders requiring a parent to stay away from the child’s school.
  • Restricting the Issuance of U.S. Passports. Normally, both parents must consent to the issuance of a U.S. passport for a minor child. If both parents do not appear in person to issue the passport, one parent may submit a signed document allowing for the issuance of a passport (DS-3053: Statement of Consent). To prevent against the use of a forged Statement of Consent, the State Department offers the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, which would notify the parent if an application for a passport is submitted on behalf of your child.
  • Restricting the Issuance of Foreign Passports. Be aware that if one parent is a citizen of another country, your child may have dual nationality. Contact the embassy of that country and inquire about their passport requirements for minors. Some countries to not allow dual citizenship, but have travel documents that a parent can obtain for the consulate. India, for example, offers parents of Indian origin the opportunity to get an OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) card, which gives them a visa to travel to India. Contacting the Indian consulate may serve to prevent the issuance of an OCI or at least obtain an alert if one is sought by the other parent.

When an International Parental Child Abduction has Occurred

If a child is abducted to a foreign country, the parent must go through a complicated procedure to ensure the swift and safe return of his or her child. Fortunately, a process for the return of abducted children exists through the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (commonly referred to as the Hague Convention). Not all countries are signatories to the Hague Convention (for a list of countries that are parties to the Hague convention, click here.

Effective advocacy on behalf of a parent whose child has been abducted requires tough lawyering, but a real command of the technical legal issues as well. When dealing with such difficult legal challenges, you do not want an attorney who is learning on the job. Our attorneys have secured the safe return of child being abducted to multiple foreign countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, and Iraq and have even served as consultants for attorneys unfamiliar with the complexities of international abduction cases.

Additional Resources:

The U.S. State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues

The National Central for Missing and Exploited Children

The U.S. Department of Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to know about relocation and divorce

what to know about relocation and divorceFor a growing number of parents, the decision for one parent to move is a highly-contested issue. Often a parent with primary custody wants to move because of work, family or issue reasons. When a parent with primary custody seeks to move to another city with the children, there is very little middle ground. For this reason you need an attorney with experience litigating these cases.   Our attorneys have experience trying and winning before Austin and Williamson County judges. We also have great success in achieving our clients’ goals through creative and skillful negotiation, without having to resort to expensive and protracted litigation. The difference between a big move and the imposition of a geographic restriction can be the attorney you select, so contact us…

Texas relocation laws

When initially deciding custody, the court typically grants one parent the right to designate the primary residence of the child. In Williamson and Travis Counties, judges tend to restrict the residence to the county of residence and the neighboring (or contiguous) counties.

If the parent with the right to designate the residence later wants to move outside the geographic region, he or she needs to petition the court for a modification. In determining whether to allow the move, the court will consider such factors as:

  • Presence of child’s friends and extended family members
  • Relative financial circumstances
  • The impact on parents’ emotional and mental states
  • Ability of both parents to have meaningful contact with the child
  • Parents’ abilities to relocate
  • The parents’ reasons for and against the move
  • Locations’ abilities to accommodate the child’s special needs or talents
  • Comparison of education, health and leisure opportunities.
  • The negative impact that hostility between the parents can have on the child
  • The child’s age, community ties and preferences

The broad discretion that a court has in applying these factors make it hard for a parent to gauge whether a court will allow a parent to move away with a child. For this reason, relocation issues are often decided by a judge in family law court rather than by negotiation.

Contact us for any other questions you may have.

Visitation rights for grandparents

Visitation rights for grandparentsMany people relish the support and guidance that a grandparent can provide when it comes to raising children. Unfortunately, sometimes parents exclude the grandparents from involvement with their children. In Texas, grandparents have no inherent rights to visit their grandchildren or make decisions for them. However, Texas law does allow for grandparents to obtain rights from a judge under a variety of circumstances. Depending on the case, a grandparent can seek rights to visitation, custody, or even adoption. Our family law attorneys represent grandparents seeking to establish these rights.

Visitation rights for grandparents:

When parents are unable to care for their children, often they turn to their parents for help. When the Department of Family and Protective Services (often referred to as “CPS”) becomes involved, a confidential series of legal processes begin.

It can be frustrating to be the caregiver of your grandchild during a CPS case. Often you do not have access to important information, and you feel left in the dark. Some grandparents choose to file for custody (or “intervene”) in the CPS case. Our family law attorneys have experience advocating for grandparents who are trying to what is best for their grandchildren.

Grandparent Access:

In some cases, grandparents can seek and obtain rights to visit their grandchildren. A common scenario involves a grandparent whose child is in prison or has passed away, but is not allowed visits of the grandchild by the other parent.

If these scenarios apply to you, contact our attorneys for a free consultation.

Gay Marriage in Central Texas

On Friday the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ban on gay marriage.  In broad terms, the decision requires Texas counties to issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples and for Texas to recognize same sex marriages performed in other states:

Held: The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State. Obergefell v. Hodges

Although the decision has resulted in numerous marriage licenses distributed, counties initially responded differently.  For example, almost immediately after the decision was made public, Travis County was issuing marriage licenses and waiving the normal 72-hour waiting period.  On the other hand, adjacent Williamson County chose to await a review of the Supreme Court’s ruling by the county attorney’s office before issuing any marriage licenses. In any event, residents of Williamson County are free to obtain marriage licenses in Travis.

Common Law Marriage
The Obergefell decision struck down Texas’s ban on same-sex marriage. While the initial focus has been on the issuance of marriage licenses, the ruling applies to common law (or informal) marriages as well.  A common law marriage may be established simply by filing a Declaration of Informal Marriage. Such a form can be found on the Bureau of Vital Statistics Website at: http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=30552

A common law marriage can also be established if two people:

  1. agree to be married;
  2. live together in Texas as a married couple; and
  3. “Hold Out” or represent to others that they are a married couple

Who Claims the Kids Once the Divorce is Final: Divorce and the Child Dependency Exemption

The child dependency exemption is a valuable child-related tax benefit which needs to be considered in any divorce involving children. The dependency exemption will be worth a deduction of $3,900 in 2013, yet many lawyers overlook it during the divorce process. Most Texas divorce decrees fail to address the issue, leaving a potential dispute that lingers after your divorce is over.

A child can only be claimed as a dependent on one tax return for a given year. For divorced or separated parents, this means that only one parent can receive the tax benefit after separation. Generally, the custodial parent (or parent with whom the child lived the greater number of nights during the tax year) is entitled to claim the child as a dependent. However, the internal revenue code does permit the parents to allocate the dependent exemption to the noncustodial parent by agreement.

You can structure the agreement to allocate the dependent exemption in any number of ways. Some common options include: noncustodial parent claims all children every year moving forward; noncustodial parent claims children in even years, custodial parent claims in odd years; or perhaps noncustodial parent claims son and custodial parent claims daughter. No matter what agreement you reach, careful drafting of the divorce decree is essential. The decree must not only clearly allocate the benefit, but it must also create enforceable obligations for the custodial parent to execute the IRS Form 8332 for the year or years in question.

The IRS has changed the procedure for allocating the child dependent exemption several times over the years. It is no longer effective to simply attach a copy of the Divorce Decree to your tax return claiming the child. The IRS currently requires parents to execute IRS Form 8332, “Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent.” The executed form must then be attached and filed along with the parent’s tax return.

Post-judgment enforcement of a sloppy order may be tricky due to the intersection of Texas family law and Federal tax laws. To be sure you don’t run into any issues with enforceability, the Divorce Decree should describe in precise detail the manner of allocation of the dependent exemption. At a minimum, the Decree should specifically order the custodial parent to sign and deliver the IRS Form 8332 to the noncustodial parent. Whenever possible, the parties should complete the necessary IRS Forms prior to or contemporaneous with the signing and entry of the Decree.

Tax planning is a crucial, often overlooked facet of effective family law representation. Allocating the child dependency exemption is only one example of the tax implications of divorce. If you are facing the divorce process, it is essential that you hire a lawyer who gives due consideration to these issues.