A Virginia man who made news in connection to high profile child custody case will go to trial to face federal charges. The man, a Mennonite pastor, allegedly helped a woman illegally flee the country with her daughter in 2010. The woman had been involved in a bitter child custody dispute with her former lesbian partner.

The couple dissolved their partnership in 2003, after which the woman denied her ex-partner visitation rights. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the ex-partner.

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, another court eventually granted the ex-partner full custody of the child, even though she was not the girl's birth mother. This prompted the other woman to abscond to Canada, then Mexico, with the child. It is at this time that the Virginia man, as well as several other individuals, allegedly helped the woman escape. The pastor has been charged aiding and abetting in international kidnapping.

Prosecutors say they expect the pastor's attorneys to argue that he did not know the ex-partner had custody of the child and thus was unaware that he was helping the woman break the law. Prosecutors will counter by accusing the man of helping facilitate the abduction in effort to deny the ex-partner access to the child, perhaps in accordance with his Mennonite beliefs.

The prosecutors have asked a judge to bar the pastor from arguing that the birth mother is the child's "true parent" and that she was obeying "God's law" over the court's custody orders. The man's attorney said his clients would make no such claims.

The case illustrates the importance of following custody arrangements as dictated by family courts. Although the birth mother was initially awarded primary custody of her daughter, she lost it after denying the girl's other parent visitation rights as ordered by the court.

Virginia parents who wish to change their custody arrangements should always seek to modify such orders legally with the assistance of a licensed attorney. Taking matters into his or her own hands can compound existing problems and the end result generally ends up hurting everyone involved, especially the children.

Source: Burlington Free Press, "Trial set for man accused of helping woman abscond with child in custody case," July 17, 2012