May 11, 2015
By: RIK STEVENS, Associated Press
CONCORD, N.H. — The criminal case against Genevieve Kelley, a New Hampshire woman who absconded to Central America with her 8-year-old daughter more than a decade ago, is about to head to trial.
Custody cases that cross international borders are not uncommon and create a unique and challenging set of circumstances for parents and governments alike.
The U.S. State Department estimates at least 8,000 American children were abducted by a parent between 2008 and 2013, and legislation signed into law last year says more than 1,000 are reported each year.
The department’s Office of Children’s Issues says it has received thousands of requests since 2007 for assistance in getting a child returned to the United States after they’ve been wrongfully abducted by a parent. Only half the children abducted to countries who participate in an international treaty are returned to the United States.
The Hague Conference on Private International Law in 1980 recognized international custody abductions as a problem requiring a global response. Currently 93 countries, including the United States, have signed onto a convention that signals their desire to protect children from wrongful removal and to ensure their prompt return to their home country. The convention was not in play during the Kelley case, because investigators could never determine with certainty where she was.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, has led efforts to reform the way the U.S. deals with international custody cases. In July 2014, Congress approved Smith’s bill that seeks to prevent international parental child abductions. The legislation, signed by President Barack Obama, requires the U.S. State Department to produce an annual report that names countries in which there was at least one parental abduction the preceding year, with the goal of shaming them into action.
The legislation also for the first time sets a schedule of actions, ranging from a private, unofficial complaint up to potential economic sanctions. The legislation also puts pressure on the State Department and the members of Congress who represent a parent to act.
Kelley is set to face trial on charges she violated a court order when she spirited her then-8-year-old daughter out of the country more than a decade ago during a custody dispute with the girl’s biological father.
Prosecutors believed she lived in Costa Rica with her second husband, the son they had together and her daughter.
When the girl turned 18, Genevieve Kelley decided to return to New Hampshire. She and her second husband, Scott Kelley, face charges that can bring up to seven years in prison on each of three felony counts of custodial interference and witness tampering, and up to a year in jail on each of two misdemeanors. A hearing is set for May 18.
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