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I work for an attorney from time to time and his main practice is divorce and custody so I can answer some of these questions, and because I do have some personal experience. Also, state laws vary, so be sure to get specific answers from an attorney in your state.
1. If a court case is public record, and you live in another state, how do you go about looking up the record? You can request a certified copy of the case from the court of record. Usually when a court enters an order regarding child custody, they maintain jurisdiction till the child is of legal age, so you always want to go back to the court of record. You can, in certain circumstances, have your case moved to where you or the child currently live, but it's not always necessary.
2. if custody of a child is granted to one parent, and the noncustodial parent skips out with the child, what steps should the custodial parent take?
First you would file a petition for contempt in the court of record. The court would issue a show cause order, ordering that the non-custodial parent appear in court and give reasons why they should not be held in contempt. The court would then order that the child be immediately returned. You can try to get the police to enforce the order, but we recently didn't have any luck getting the local police to enforce our custody order, so I'm not sure they would intervene. The states have a treaty or pact or something that requires one state to enforce the custody orders of another. In 2002, my brother's ex wife up and moved to England contrary to a court order that stated neither parent would relocate more than 75 miles from where the children lived at the time of the order. We were able to use the Hauge Convention to get the British government to confiscate their passports and put them on a plane back to Maryland for a trial. In the end, his ex was held in contempt of court and ordered to pay my brother $10K in attorneys fees and then after trial, she was allowed to move to England with the girls. But he was the original non-custodial parent anyway.
3. Do the courts ever convict the non-custodial parent for kidnapping/evasion/contempt of court, etc when caught?
We recently learned that it's not really kidnapping, but rather custodial interference. You can be convicted of a felony if the child is removed from the state where the exchange took place and not returned at the end of visitation. In Maryland, unless the child is removed from the state, it's only a misdemeanor and punishable by 30 days in jail and/or $250 fine. There really isn't a lot that can happen, criminally, but contempt of court is a big deal.