Florida Lawyer Patricia M. Lee Advocates For New International Parental Child Abduction Prevention Laws
Patricia M. Lee's law practice evolves primarily around international family issues, including the Hague Convention on the International Aspects of Child Abduction and interstate parental kidnapping, as well as the enforcement and modification of foreign orders of support and property distribution. Ms. Lee's international experience includes cases involving international family law, and parental child abduction, support enforcement or modification, and ancillary probate matters from countries such as Belgium, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Columbia, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Guatemala.
Recently, a groundbreaking United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has recommended for the creation of a new international parental child abduction prevention program aimed at establishing a non-departure fly list for United States citizens who have been determined by either our courts or law enforcement as potential high-risk international parental child abductors. In the report that Gerald Dillingham, the Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues for the U.S. GAO issued, the GAO recommendation states, "To further help prevent international parental child abduction involving airline flights, particularly for persons identified as high risk for attempting such abductions, we recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security consider creating a program similar to the child abduction component of the Prevent Departure program that would apply to U.S. citizens."
Patricia M. Lee commented,, "The legal environment for parents whose children are at risk of abduction is daunting. To begin with, targeted parents are often not aware of the other parent's imminent plans to abduct their child. All too often local courts may not realize the complex issues involved in these types of cases, and the challenging legal remedies that a targeted or left behind parent faces in order to prevent or attempt to reunite with their child, not to mention the incredible financial burden. Present loopholes in existing laws and policies make it possible for children to be abducted internationally, despite injunctive relief or federal assistance under existing programs. I have to ask why American citizens should be treated differently than resident aliens when the risk of abduction is the same, if not greater, as we are addressing preventing abduction of children from or by parents resident in the United States. These parents most likely possess dual citizenship, or American citizenship documentation. The disparity in treatment of U.S. citizens and resident aliens certainly raises legitimate constitutional concerns, and more importantly, leaves gaping holes in the prevention system. I believe that the recommendations by the GAO are appropriate, timely and much needed. For example, without the creation of a secondary screening departure list established to prevent would-be abductors who possesses a United States passport and/or a secondary passport issued from another country, there are limited remedies available that could realistically prevent a child from being wrongfully taken abroad. What is needed is exactly what the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security are recommending: a preventive program that focuses on the point of departure that ensures that children who are not permitted to leave the country with a particular parent due to potential child abduction are unable to do so. This type of program would be of great benefit to at risk parents seeking to prevent child abduction by a dual national and/or American citizen parent. In our ever shrinking world, this is a very real threat that is not currently being addressed."
A response from Jim Crumpacker of the Departmental GAO/OIG Liaison Office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concurs with the recommendation and need to create a secondary security screening list in order to stop American child-citizens from being illegally abducted abroad; however, DHS cites challenges that exist to implement such a program. Specifically, "DHS strongly agrees that preventing international child abduction is a very important issue. The Department also agrees that expanding its current efforts along these lines to include pre-departure flight screening for potential U.S. citizen abductors could be helped in preventing some abductions."
According to Ms. Lee, "The United States government has several programs in place to prevent international parental child abduction; however, these policies in themselves are not enough to prevent abduction. They presently include the State Department's requirement that both parents or guardians consent prior to the issuance of a child's U.S. passport. In addition, the State Department has created the 'Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program' to prevent the issuance of a passport to an individual who does not possess a right of custody or guardianship of a child. And finally, parents can contact the State Department's Office of Children's Issues and request that a suspected non-U.S. citizen abductor be placed on the Department of Homeland Security's 'Prevent Departure Program' or to seek addition in the filing of a Hague petition. Each is good, sound policy. However, collectively they are not enough to stop international child abduction from occurring as is indicated by the substantial growth of reported and suspected unreported international child abductions in the United States and abroad each year.
"Specifically, we need new policies that include the creation of a non-departure list for high-risk child abductors possessing rights ofAmerican citizenship. And equally as important, we need to modify the existing Western Hemisphere Travel Initiatives to include that all individuals, children included, must present a valid passport when traveling abroad, regardless if they travel by land, sea, or air."
Supporting Patricia M. Lee's statement is the GAO report, which further emphasizes the need for a secondary prevent departure list. "Department of Homeland Security officials told us that their Prevent Departure list - which requires a custody or court order specifically banning the child in question from traveling internationally with a specified parent or someone acting on behalf of the parent - is quite effective at preventing abductions involving non-U.S. citizen abductors. Officials at the State Department added that a similar list for U.S. citizens would be very effective in cases where there was already a custody or court order preventing the child from traveling abroad with the specified parent."
Patricia M. Lee is the mother of four adult children, and when not traveling, lives and works primarily in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is involved with numerous charitable and legislative groups working to protect the welfare of children and to address domestic violence. Ms. Lee has handled client referrals in international kidnapping matters for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Child Watch, the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center, and for numerous United States Servicemen stationed abroad and/or with children of foreign nationals. She is also active in legislative reform to proactively prevent child abduction and human trafficking. She has been court appointed to represent the interests of children as a guardian ad litem in high conflict custody and abuse cases, and is currently undergoing additional training to represent the interests of abused children. She has presented legal advice seminars for domestic violence shelters and is an active volunteer for the Community Law Program, and in 2009, was recognized with an annual award for her work on behalf of the poor in her community.
In addition, Ms. Lee is a referral attorney for the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, the United States implementing agency for the Hague Convention, and is experienced in the international aspects of child abduction, the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, international and national relocation issues, the impact of immigration laws upon dissolution of marriage, the domestication, modification and enforcement of foreign custody and support orders, and other bi-national divorce issues.
Ms. Lee is a sole practitioner maintaining her primary office in St. Petersburg, Florida, but is also of counsel to the international law firm of Urban Thier Federer & Chinnery, P.A., with offices in London and Manchester, England, Munich, Germany, and Orlando, Florida.
To show your support for the creation of a security screening list for individuals considered to be high-risk abductors or to voice your concern over poor travel document requirements needed for children traveling abroad under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative PLEASE sign the WHITE House petition at http://wh.gov/2MC
For more information on Attorney Patricia M. Lee, please visit: http://www.thelawofficeofpatricialee.com/
Patricia M. Lee is a family law attorney licensed in the State of Florida and based in St. Petersburg, Florida, since 1992. She focuses her practice primarily on international issues, including the Hague Convention on the International Aspects of Child Abduction and interstate parental kidnapping, as well as the enforcement and modification of foreign orders of support and property distribution.
Patricia M. Lee
530 Forty-Ninth Street South
St. Petersburg, Florida 33707
Office: (727) 322-5020
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