My spouse is threatening to take the children away, but I’ve done nothing wrong. What can I do to protect them and me?

What do you do when your spouse threatens to walk out and take the children even though you have been an equal and contributing partner in the marriage?

It is good that you are thinking about this now, because it is far easier to prevent a spouse from absconding with your children than it is to get them back after a spouse absconded with the children.

In answering your question, I will assume that:

  • these sorts of threats have been made by your spouse more than once up to this point, and that you take the threats seriously.
  • you have tried to discuss the problems in your marriage with your spouse, either just between the two of you or with the assistance of a marriage counselor of some kind (whether that be a mental health professional comma a minister or pastor comma or even a mutual friend you and your spouse both trust), and that those efforts have not helped you and your spouse resolve the problems you face.
  • You have met with people you trust to speak frankly with you, you have asked them if you are the problem, and you have honestly determined that while you are not perfect, you are not the reason for the troubles in the marriage.

If you have done these three things, then you have reason to be concerned, and you should take action to protect yourself and the children. Those actions include generally:

  • Find out if (and if so, how) you can legally attach a tracking device to your vehicles and to your children’s phones in case your spouse runs off or tries to run off with the children, so that you can more easily locate them. CONSULT WITH A LAWYER AND WITH A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR TO FIND OUT WHAT YOU CAN LEGALLY DO. Every jurisdiction’s laws may be slightly different than in others, so you will need to speak with an attorney and a private investigator in the jurisdiction where you and your spouse and children are located.
    • This may make you feel apprehensive or devious, and if it does, good. That means that you have a conscience. You are not contemplating this because you are trying to do something evil or to take advantage of your spouse, you are trying to protect yourself and your children.
    • As soon as you understand whether you can legally track your vehicles, spouse, and your children legally, act. Get those legal tracking devices and/or the software installed immediately. This is one of those situations where hesitating could deprive you of seizing opportunity to track the children, so act sooner than later.
  • If you trust your own parents and siblings, confide in them and inform them that you are concerned that your spouse may try to abscond with your children promise so that if they notice anything unusual or suspicious, they can notify you immediately.
  • Teach your children how to use a phone and platforms for video conferencing (like FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, etc.). Teach your children who to call if they cannot reach you.
  • Monitor your spouse’s behavior for suspicious activity—AGAIN, BEFORE YOU DO THIS, MAKE SURE YOU CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY AND WITH A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR to ensure that your surveillance activities are not illegal. There is a right way and a wrong way to do this. If you think you cannot go to jail or prison for doing this the wrong way, you are mistaken.
    • If your spouse is fool enough to keep making oral threats to “take the children so that you never see them again,” record your spouse making the threats. Do not “entrap” your spouse into saying something you are trying to get him/her to say, but if the subject comes up naturally, get it recorded.
    • Is your spouse taking steps to frame you as an abusive parent and/or spouse? If so, document it. And keep the documents in a secure place or places, so that your spouse can destroy or alter them.
    • Is your spouse spending more time than normal on his/her phone or computer in secret? Is he/she now unusually and extremely protective of his/her privacy?
    • Has your spouse recently quit his/her job, or has he/she obtained a job without needing a job?
    • Is your spouse cutting ties with the local neighborhood and community?
    • Monitor bank and credit union and other financial account activity. That may help you notice whether your spouse is building up a war chest to use in absconding with the children and later filing for divorce and seeking sole custody of the children.
    • Keep an eye out for whether your spouse is purchasing items one would use if one were planning to move or go on an extended vacation. Is your spouse purchasing luggage? Getting the luggage he or she already owns and that the children own out of storage? Talking to and otherwise communicating more often than normal to relatives who live out of town or out of state or even out of the country?
    • Is your spouse talking about renewing the children’s passports or getting new passports for them? Make sure you have the children’s passports secured.
    • Is your spouse starting to express a lot more interest in airline points? Either knowing where they are, how many there are, or earning them or getting a credit card that awards them?
    • Know where your spouse’s parents, siblings, and close friends live. Know not only their residential addresses, but their work addresses and where they might have any vacation homes. Know their phone numbers and their e-mail addresses.
    • Make sure you have accurate and up-to-date identifying information about your spouse and the children, and keep it up to date every month or so.
      • Current photographs for each person.
      • Description of spouse and children by height, weight, age, eye color, and any unique distinguishing features for your spouse and children, such as scars, moles, tattoos, etc.
      • Photographs from all sides of the vehicles, including a clear photograph of the license plates and any unique distinguishing vehicle features.
      • Get a DNA sample of each of the children by suddenly expressing an interest in learning your family history, if you think you can sell that to everyone.
      • Get the children’s fingerprints if you can find a way to do so without attracting suspicion
  • Is your spouse suddenly engaging in “dry runs” by going on trips without you to visit relatives or claiming to be going on a “trip with my sisters” or a “trip with my friends for the weekend”?
  • Is your spouse planning to take the children with him or her on a “vacation” to visit your spouse’s parents (or a sibling of your spouse’s) and does not want you to come with him/her?
  • Prepare for divorce, and for a fight over child custody.
  • For most decent folks, secretly preparing for divorce—when they suspect that their spouses started plotting divorce already—makes them feel like villains. That is to be expected. Unfortunately, even when you are not in the wrong, there is no way to overcome that feeling completely. But overcome that feeling you must, or you may find yourself at an insurmountable disadvantage when your spouse files for divorce.
  • Find a good divorce lawyer and meet with him or her immediately. Not every lawyer who has a law license is a good lawyer. Not every lawyer with a license is an experienced and skilled divorce lawyer. So, make sure you shop around to find the best lawyer you can possibly afford. Now is not the time to pinch pennies or to jump over dollars to pick up dimes.
  • Document the fact that you are in every way a loving and fit parent who has a strong bond with your children. And make sure that your documents are safely secured, so that your spouse cannot find them and destroy them or alter them.
  • Gather the documents your attorney will need:
    • The documents that prove you are the children’s parent:
      • Birth certificates
      • Social Security numbers
      • Passports
      • Driver licenses (if applicable)
    • The documents that prove what you and your spouse have acquired during the marriage, what your respective incomes are, your assets (Financial and otherwise), debts and other obligations and liabilities, and what your personal expenses are on a monthly and yearly basis. To find out what information your attorney needs, hire an attorney. Your attorney will provide you with a checklist.
  • If you are concerned that your child is at risk of being abducted internationally, acquaint yourself with the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (ICAPRA)

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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