Most people believe strangers are responsible for the majority of childhood abductions, but national statistics say parental kidnapping is more often to blame. A family abduction occurs when a family member, likely a separated or divorced parent, takes and hides a child for some length of time. This heartbreaking and devastating crime occurs more than 200,000 times each year.
Childhood kidnapping is usually driven out of anger, frustration, abandonment and desperation. Often, emotions overwhelm personal judgment and sound reasoning. And in custody disputes, this often leads to one parent losing their child to parental kidnapping.
Often cited reasons for parental abduction include:
- Forced interaction or a reconciliation with the parent left-behind
- Spite or punishment against the other parent
- Fear of losing custody or visitation rights with the child
- Protecting the child from the other parent who is perceived to molest, abuse, or neglect the child
Are You at Risk of Losing Your Child to Parental Kidnapping?
There are often subtle and obvious warning signs of a pending abduction. The most common signals your child may be in danger of parental kidnapping include:
- Threatened abduction or attempted abduction in the past
- Suspected abuse supported by family and friends
- Paranoid delusion or severely sociopathic behavior
- Your spouse/ex has alien citizenship (in a foreign country) and may potentially flee the US
- Your spouse/ex feels alienated from or fears the legal system, and has family or social support in another community or abroad
- Your spouse/ex has no strong ties to your child’s home state
- Your spouse/ex has no job or is not financially tied to the area
- Your spouse/ex is planning to quit a job, sell a home, or close bank accounts
- Your spouse/ex applies for passports, or obtains copies of school or medical records
Pay close attention to these any and all of these potential signs and contact the family court and/or your attorney for assistance. Any direct threat of parental kidnapping must be taken seriously. The family court and law enforcement authorities should be contacted immediately if you feel your child is in grave danger.
Parental Kidnapping is a Serious Crime
Both parents are entitled to equal rights and access to a child unless an order specifically limits one parent’s rights or access to their child. Before a divorce or child custody suit is filed, either parent can take their child and maintain custody of them.
Once a custody order is in place, each parent must abide by it. If a parent without legal custody of their child violates a custody order and snatches or conceals a child, they may be potentially charged with parental kidnapping.
The taking of a child is considered kidnapping by looking at three main factors:
- The legal status of the offending parent
- Any existing court orders regarding custody
- The intent of the abducting parent
Parental abduction often violates many federal and state laws, and if parental abduction occurs, contact law enforcement immediately. As enraged as you may be, don’t take the law into your own hands. Let experienced officers use the justice system to help you locate and bring home your child. You should also contact your family law attorney, and if the where abouts of your child are unknown, consider hiring a private investigator to locate your child and to focus dedicated resources on the case.
State Kidnapping Laws
Laws vary by state, but generally parental kidnapping involves a suspect abducting a child and holding them in a location they won’t likely be found. Some states laws maintain a parent cannot keep a child more than 24 hours with the intent to conceal them. In some states, just the unlawful retention of a child is sufficient for a charge of parental kidnapping; the use of force or a weapon is not required in all states to support the criminal charge of parental kidnapping. However, many state also include a defense for any parent attempting to protect their child from real threats.
Preventing Family Abductions
Custody battles are frustrating and can be infuriating, and child abductions are not uncommon. To keep your children safe, consider following these recommendations:
- Start any child custody process immediately upon learning of your impending separation/divorce (as you need a custody order to prove your rights)
- Impose visitation restrictions, such as supervised visits, if there is imminent danger of parental abduction
- Include parental kidnapping prevention measures in the custody order such as having both parents post bonds. This will serve as a deterrent, and if the child is abducted by your spouse/ex, the money helps you with costs of recovery. For further information visit the Professional Bail Agents of the United States at www.pbus.com.
- Maintain a certified copy of the custody order at your home.
- Document any abduction threats and report them immediately to your family court and/or attorney.
- Contact the police to intervene and alert your spouse/ex of the consequences of child abduction.
- File certified copies of your child’s custody order with their schools, healthcare providers, daycare, sitters, etc. Make sure it’s known not to release your child to the non-custodial parent without your permission and demand to be notified if an attempt is made.
- Keep a record of all physical descriptive information on your child and your spouse/ex, including height and weight, hair and eye color and any distinguishing marks, and maintain current photos (6 months). List social security numbers, license plate numbers, vehicle information, and other identifiable data.
- Obtain a passport for your child, and let authorities know your child cannot leave the country without your written authorization – see the U.S. Department of State for more information.
Although it may be difficult to do, maintaining a friendly connection to the your spouse’s/ex’s family may be beneficial. It could help you avoid the trauma of family abduction, and in the event of a kidnapping, you may need their support to bring your child home safely.
What Else You Can Do
Keeping your children safe also requires open communication between you and your child. Ensure your children know as much information as possible including their full name, your full name, and full addresses and phone numbers. Make sure they know how and when to call you, and how and when to contact 911 services.
Most of all, make sure your child feels loved. Convey a message – without mentioning, or accusing the your spouse/ex of being a potential threat, and that you will always love them, look out for them and will do anything and everything to be with them.
Losing your child to parent kidnapping is gut wrenching and heartbreaking not only for you but also for your child. Fortunately, laws exist to help you get your children back. Should you ever lose your child due to parental kidnapping, turn to the criminal justice system and law enforcement for help.
Should you have any questions specific to your child custody or visitation case, or if you would like help enforcing a child custody order, contact a divorce attorney or a Father’s Rights attorney in your area for help.
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