As parents, we all want the best for our children. We want to make sure they are safe, have as many opportunities as possible and that their lives are full and enriched.
These goals can be somewhat complicated when the parents are no longer together and perhaps do not see eye-to-eye on fundamental areas of concern.
But parents who attempt to step outside the court-ordered boundaries of child visitation, parenting time, custody and other rules may find themselves not only losing out in family court, but possibly facing criminal charges.
That's what happened in U.S. v. Shabban, a federal criminal case out of the District of Columbia, and it stemmed from a father's desire to improve his son's speech. It ended with him receiving a four-year term in federal prison.
According to court records, father, an Egyptian national, met mother, a Mexican national, while they were living in D.C. Together, they had a son, but were not married and did not remain in a relationship. They each agreed through consensual order mother would have primary physical custody of the child, and father would have unsupervised visitation rights. In the order, it was expressly stated the boy was not to be removed from the country without express and written permission from both parties.
Three years after that custody order was entered, father began preparing to take the boy to Egypt without mother's consent. He sold his business, made arrangements for his roommate to take over the lease on their shared apartment, told his roommate he was taking the boy to Egypt, but said the boy's mother didn't care.
Then one day, father called to ask if he could take their son to an amusement park. She agreed. Later in the day when she tried to reach him, he did not answer his phone. She went to his home, and he wasn't there. That evening, unbeknownst to her, father boarded a flight to Cairo with his son flying under an assumed name.
A week later, father called mother and told her he and the boy were in Egypt. She contacted federal authorities and worked with the FBI over the course of the next two years, trying to convince father to bring the son home. Throughout these conversations, father repeatedly noted the boy's difficulty in communicating, and expressed his belief it had to do with the fact that he was hearing three languages at home – English, Spanish and Arabic. He wanted to take him somewhere he would only hear one language, so as to improve his education.
Finally, mother convinced father to return with son to the U.S. to enroll him in school for the following year. As soon as he arrived at the airport, he was arrested. He told authorities he took his son abroad to help him gain better communication skills, because he was having trouble speaking and understanding people. He conceded the boy's mother would not have allowed him to leave the country if he had asked permission before he left.
He was charged by federal authorities with international parental kidnapping, as codified in 18 U.S.C. 1204(a), which involves obstruction of lawful parental rights of the other parent.
During trial, father argued he had no intent to obstruct mother's parental rights because his only purposes was to place his son in an environment that would improve his speech. Prosecutors argued that while this may have been part of father's intent, he also intended to obstruct mother's rights.
Jury sided with prosecution, convicted father and sentenced him to three years in federal prison.
He appealed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed.
Decisions regarding the bests interests of children can result in conflict, but it is imperative that parents come to an agreement, or at least don't violate the orders of the court. The risk of doing so is far too great. The better alternative is to hire an experienced family law attorney who can help to ensure your child's best interests are met.
U.S. v. Shabban, April 3, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit