The Role of the California District Attorney in Family Abduction Cases
The role of California District Attorneys in family abduction cases is unique. California Family Code sections 3130 through 3134.5 mandate District Attorneys to assist the courts in enforcing their orders and in locating and returning missing children to the jurisdiction of the court. No other state has a similar legislative scheme. As a result of the California legislature’s progressive vision, California parents whose children are withheld or abducted by the other parent have an effective means to seek recovery of their children, usually without having to fund a lengthy search and court process, as is often the case in other states. Prior to the enactment of this legislative mandate, many children were permanently lost to left behind parents who could not afford the cost of proceeding privately. While the recent state budget crisis is casting a cloud on the funding (suspension of payments for SB 90 programs, such as the District Attorneys Child Abduction Units, was in effect for several years, but payments are now being resumed) to counties, enforcement has and is continuing.
California prosecutors are authorized to utilize any appropriate civil or criminal proceeding to assist the courts in enforcing their orders and to locate and recover missing children. This unique authorization allows prosecutors to resolve many cases without having to file criminal actions, which are not necessarily appropriate in many cases.
The success of California’s legislative parental kidnapping scheme has inspired the inclusion of a version of our system in the new Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform States Laws in 1997, and approved by the American Bar Association in 1998. Forty-eight states, including California, have adopted the UCCJEA, and it was introduced for adoption by the legislatures in 2010 in the remaining two states, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Following are copies of California Family Code Sections 3130 to 3135, and California Penal Code Sections 277 to 280 and 784.5. They are the primary code sections that California prosecutors work with in parental child abduction cases.