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Venus Stewart Case Illustrates Difficulties and Dangers of Interstate Child Custody Disputes

Authorities are still investigating the disappearance of Venus Stewart, a 32-year-old mother of two who police believe was abducted from her parents’ home in Colon Township, Michigan, on April 26. The South Bend Times identified Ms. Stewart’s estranged husband, Doug Stewart of Newport News, Virginia, as the only person of interest in the case.

Prior to Ms. Stewart’s abduction, she and Mr. Stewart were in the midst of a divorce and a custody dispute over their two daughters. The week before she disappeared, Schwartz Law Firm represented Ms. Stewart at the St. Joseph County District Court, where she sought and was granted temporary custody of both children. Mr. Stewart accused Ms. Stewart of fabricating claims that he sexually abused one of the minor children. However, Child Protective Services substantiated the claims of abuse.

In the weeks since the disappearance, the court has rejected Mr. Stewart’s request for custody of the girls and denied him visitation rights. At a hearing on June 17th, he was arraigned on an abuse/neglect petition based on the allegations of sexual abuse that Ms. Stewart made before her disappearance.

Child custody cases can often be extremely complicated, and they become even more so when they take place across state lines. Parents often disagree over which state to try a case in — in part because of the additional expense and inconvenience for the out-of-state parent, and because the laws governing child custody cases vary from state to state.

Sometimes, one parent in a custody dispute may want to file the case in a particular state because the laws in that state are more favorable to his or her position in the case. In extreme situations, a parent who is unhappy with the outcome of a custody case in one state may even kidnap the children and flee to another state, hoping to obtain a more favorable verdict in another jurisdiction.

In order to discourage parental kidnapping and reduce confusion in interstate child custody cases, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, and the federal government has passed the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act. Together, these laws provide a clear set of rules for determining when a child custody case may be heard in a particular state.

If you are involved in a child custody dispute, contact an experienced family law attorney today to ensure that your rights and those of your children are being protected.