Children and Divorce
Rising Concern Over Parental Kidnaping
Malcolm Wallop is a Republican senator from Wyoming, a state where energy development, land use and water are the big issues. But since he was elected in 1976, Wallop has spent a good deal of his time working on two problems that are far removed from those issues: child custody laws and parental kidnapping. Wallop's interest in these issues stems from the complaints of a constituent whose ex-husband took their two-year-old child and fled to his native Colombia. Wallop found there was nothing he could do under existing law, which exempted parents from federal prosecution for interstate abduction of their children. “I could not help but wonder what psychological effect this emotional ordeal would have on the two-year-old youngster and what could be done to protect other children from similar experiences,” Wallop said.
The senator's concern increased when he learned that as many as 100,000 children a year are abducted by a divorced parent—usually an estranged father who is angered and frustrated because his ex-wife makes it difficult for him to visit the children. Wallop found that child-snatchings exact an emotional toll from all involved, children as well as parents. He tried to get the Senate to enact legislation requiring federal authorities to help track down parents who kidnap their own children after they lose custody. After four years of legislative maneuvering, Congress on Dec. 13, 1980, enacted the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act as an amendment to an unrelated bill involving Medicare benefits.
The 1980 law required states to honor the child custody decrees of courts in other states. It also authorized the federal Parent Locator Service of the Health and Human Services Department to help find abducting parents and missing children; regulations to implement this provision were put into effect in November 1981. Finally, the law directed the Justice Department to use the Fugitive Felon Act—a statute that allows the FBI to help state officials locate fugitives—in parental kidnapping cases.