California Emergency Alert System Amended to Include Abduction by Custodial Parent or Guardian

paper-family-ii-832858-m.jpgChild custody disputes range from common disagreements between parents over legal and physical custody, to more contentious battles that can elicit intense emotions and sometimes, rash behavior by one parent or another. One of the most severe actions a parent can take is to literally “abduct” their own child, by taking him or her in contravention of the parenting arrangement. In order to address and resolve outstanding, heated differences between parents over child custody and visitation arrangements, it is critical that one consults with an experienced San Diego family law attorney, with extensive knowledge of the local court’s rules and procedures.

According to Department of Justice statistics, 800,000 children are reported missing every year in the United States. What may be surprising is that a family member is the abductor in an estimated 200,000 cases. If a child is at risk of being abducted by the other parent, it is imperative that one has a clear custody order that identifies what each parent is permitted to do in terms of traveling with the child. Further, according to the California Courts’ website, parents who feel that their children may be vulnerable to abduction should talk to a lawyer for legal advice.

Because of the seriousness of these cases, the state of California recently amended the local Amber Alert law or the Emergency Alert System so that it now covers custodial parents. Prior to the amendments, the law authorized and required law enforcement to request activation of the Emergency Alert System, within the appropriate local area if: 1) a child aged 17 and younger is abducted, 2) it is determined that the victim is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death, and 3) dissemination of information to the public could aid in the safe recovery of the victim.

The revisions add a new twist to the law taking into account that many abduction cases involve a parent as the “abductor.” The specific language now states that law enforcement is required to seek activation of the Emergency Alert System if a child has been taken by anyone, “including a custodial parent or guardian” (in addition to the other conditions cited above). According to the Senate Public Safety analysis (accompanying the original Assembly Bill 535), there was an ambiguity as to whether the original law could be applied to custodial parents or guardians. It was decided that the relationship between the child and the abductor should not be an inhibiting factor if there is reason to believe that the child’s life is at risk. The key element is whether the abducted child is in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

The revisions to the law went into effect on January 1, 2014, and are important to protect children from custodial parent or guardian abductors. One of the ways to help prevent such a devastating outcome in a child custody situation is to create a parenting plan at the outset that satisfies all parties involved. An experienced family law attorney in the San Diego area would be able to provide you with the best advice under the circumstances.

If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, you are encouraged to contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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