Incoming Cases - Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

I am a parent whose child has been wrongfully removed or retained in the U.S.  How should I apply for return of my child?
We can help pursue the recovery of your child under the Hague Abduction Convention.  Check to make sure that your child has been abducted from a country that the United States partners with under the Convention (view list). Your next step should be to contact the Central Authority for the Hague Abduction Convention in the child’s home country.  They will help you fill out an application and let you know what supporting documents you need to provide. You will need to have these documents translated into English. The Central Authority will then forward your application to our office to begin the process here in the United States. 

In your application for return of your child or access to your child, please supply any address information you have, so that we may attempt to locate your child or children quickly.  Once we have an address, we will try to arrange a voluntary return of children.  If this is not possible, we will provide information so that you can bring a petition to a U.S. court.

After we receive your Hague application, you will be assigned a case officer who will help you:

  • Locate your child in the United States;
  • Try to achieve a voluntary return of your child;
  • Understand the legal process in the United States;
  • Find an affordable attorney; and
  • Locate support groups and nonprofit organizations that can also assist you.
Does the Hague Abduction Convention apply in my case?
The Hague Abduction Convention may apply in your case if your child has been abducted to the United States from a country that the United States partners with under the Convention (view list).  For the Convention to apply, your child must have been under age 16 at the time of the abduction.
Does it matter that I am not a U.S. citizen?
Under the Convention, neither citizenship nor immigration is a factor we consider when assisting families.  If you are not pursuing remedies under the Hague Convention, CI will provide information on other options available to you in the United States.
How long will the Hague process take?
The length of the legal process for a Hague case varies.  How long your case takes depends on whether your child can be located; whether any appeal is filed; and how long the court takes to decide the case, among many other factors.  The Office of Children’s Issues is committed to helping you resolve your case as quickly as possible.  We strongly believe that cases should be resolved in a prompt manner in order to restore the family to the same position it was in before the abduction or wrongful retention. 
Do you speak Spanish?
Yes, we have several fulltime case officers available to assist parents in Spanish.  Simply request to speak with a Spanish-speaking case officer.
Can the State Department get my children back?
The State Department does not have the authority to physically pick up your children and return them to you.  However, our office will work closely with you as you pursue the recovery of your child.  We are here to help during this difficult time. 
Have there been returns to my country?
Every year, many children that have been abducted to the United States are returned to their countries of origin.  There have been returns to nearly every country with which the United States partners under the Convention.  Last year alone, 262 children abducted to or wrongfully retained in the United States were returned to their country of origin under the Convention. 
Can I get my children back based on a custody order issued in my country?
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) has been enacted in 48 states and has been introduced in others.  Generally, this statute contains both jurisdiction and enforcement provisions that require a state to enforce a custody or visitation order that was issued by the child’s habitual residence.

More information on the UCCJEA

Is parental child abduction illegal in the United States?
Yes, the United States finds international parental child abduction to be a Federal crime.  In the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, the United States Congress stated that “the international abduction or wrongful retention of children is harmful to their well-being,” and that “persons should not be permitted to obtain custody of children by virtue of their wrongful removal or retention.”
What documents do I need to include with my Hague application?
You will need to include several documents with your Hague application.  Please refer to this checklist when preparing your Hague application.  This will help us process your application as quickly as possible.
Is there a fee for your services?
No, we do not charge for our services.  We are here to help you free of charge.  In fact, Federal law prohibits our office from charging fees for our services. 

Note:  The United States does not provide free legal representation to parents.  While we cannot provide you with legal representation, we will provide you with a list of attorneys who may take your case for a reduced fee.  Additionally, you may be required to pay other fees associated with your petition for return of your child – such as the fees for court filings, and the cost of travel and accommodations. 

Can I come to the United States and simply take back (re-abduct) my child?
We strongly discourage taking matters into your own hands.  The measures could be illegal and may delay your child’s return.  Attempts to re-abduct your child from the United States may:
  • Endanger your child and others;
  • Prejudice any future judicial efforts you might wish to make in the United States; and
  • Could even result in your arrest and imprisonment.

Finally, there is no guarantee that the chain of abductions would end with the one committed by you.  A parent who has re-abducted a child may have to go to extraordinary lengths to conceal his or her whereabouts, living in permanent fear that the child may be re-abducted yet again.

If you are contemplating such desperate measures, we advise you to consider the emotional trauma inflicted on a child who is a victim of an abduction and a re-abduction. We discourage re-abduction not only because it is illegal, but also because of possible psychological harm to the child.

How do I get an affordable attorney in the United States?
The Office of Children’s Issues maintains a list of attorneys who offer assistance to parents.  Should you request our assistance in finding an attorney in the United States, you will be asked to fill out a Legal Assistance Questionnaire.  We will use this questionnaire to determine whether you qualify for assistance and to help match you with an appropriate attorney. 
What court in the United States will hear my case?
The United States has two separate court systems, a Federal court system and a State court system.  Both types of courts have authority to hear a Hague Abduction Convention case, as established by the International Child Abduction Remedies Act.  You and your attorney have the right to file a petition for return of your child under the Hague Abduction Convention in either State or Federal court. 
Can a court deny the return of my child?
The return of your child can be denied by a U.S. court under limited circumstances.  The return can be denied, for example, if the other parent is able to prove to the court one of these exceptions laid out in the Convention:
  • If there is a “grave risk” that the child’s return “would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation” (Article 13b);
  • If “the child objects to being returned and has attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of its views” (Article 13b)
  • If over one year has passed since the date of the wrongful removal or retention (Article 12); and
  • If the return of the child would be in violation of the United States’ “protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Article 20).
How do I contact your office?
The Office of Children's Issues places the highest priority on the welfare of children who have been victimized by parental child abduction.  Please feel free to contact our office at any time. 

U.S. Department of State
Office of Children's Issues

1- 888-407-4747 (from the United States or Canada)
1-202-501-4444 (from another country)