By COURTNEY CULEY
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan courts may soon have the power to step into family disputes if there is evidence that a parent may abduct their child.
Legislators are pushing for a uniform child abduction prevention act. The bill would allow courts to take custody of a child that is at risk.
If one parent worries of possible abduction of a child by the other parent and evidence can be provided, prevention measures can be taken, said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, the bill sponsor.
This bill affects all parents, even those who are not in custody disputes, said Jeanne M. Hannah, a family lawyer in Traverse City.
“That is the most important reason why the Michigan Legislature should enact this legislation,” she said.
In 1999 alone, 203,900 American children were victims of a family abduction, according to an October 2002 study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Hannah said.
Research shows that abductions are very damaging to children even if the abductor is the child’s parent, Hannah said.
If evidence is presented against one of the child’s parents, the other parent can ask the court to determine if measures need to be taken, Jones said.
If divorced parents share custody, and one parent takes actions that could indicate possible abduction, the court can protect the child, he said.
Evidence includes plans to move or travel, applying for a passport for the parent and child, or the parent being arrested for related crimes, Jones said.
“We have one of the weakest laws in the nation for having standards for removing a child,” Jones said. Child abduction is an ongoing problem and the ultimate goal is to prevent it, he said.
The Probate Judges Association of Michigan brought the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Anytime that we take up legislation in judiciary, it’s for the child’s best interest,” Jones said.
The courts have difficulty determining if a parent might abduct their child, said Rebecca DeVooght, chief of staff for Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, one of the bill’s sponsors. Under current legislation, the courts can label a possible threat, but they can’t take action.
“There are many reasons why parents wish to abduct their own children,” Hannah said. Parents may feel as though their needs are not met by the legal system; they disagree with custody agreements.
Under this bill, courts can order abduction prevention measures before custody hearings occur, Hannah said.
The federal government has child abduction standards in place, but it doesn’t have jurisdiction until the child crosses state lines, DeVooght said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By COURTNEY CULEY