According to Child Find of America, Inc., more than three-fourths of all child abductions – more than 200,000 kids in 1999 alone — involve a non-custodial parent, and two-thirds of these kids were taken by their dad or another male relative. Eighty-two percent of the perpetrators said they intended to permanently affect custody because they were unhappy with the court decision, angry at the break-up or resentful of their ex-spouse’s new partner or lifestyle. Others reported that they had been denied visitation rights for not paying child support, or that they were protecting their kids from abuse.
The truth is these children are in for a world of hurt.
Yanked from family, school, the comforts of home and friends, many are forced to live life on the run, moving from place to place – and even to other countries – to avert authorities. Many are told that the parent they left behind doesn’t love or want them anymore, and many are exposed to emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
While these cases are very rare, if you’re ever involved in a separation or divorce and you suspect your ex-partner is becoming unstable, don’t hesitate to take action. If your ex is impulsive, easily angered, hostile, revengeful or abusive, with a spotty employment record and few responsibilities, he fits the typical profile.
First, strengthen the line of communication between you and your child.
While you don’t need to divulge details of your divorce, make sure your child knows you love him and will always want him, no matter what anyone else says. Help him feel comfortable coming to you with any worries.
Make sure he knows his full name, address and phone number, and matter-of-factly teach him how to approach trusted family members or friends, or even police or emergency crews, if he ever needs help. Explain how to make a long-distance or collect call, and let him know he has the right to call you no matter who says he can’t.
Meanwhile, stash as much up-to-date information as you can on your ex-spouse, including his social security number, driver’s license number, vehicle registration number, bank account and credit card numbers, passport and medical insurance information. Keep a list of addresses, phone numbers and birthdays of all of his relatives and close friends.
You should also keep a current photo and important data about your child so that you can share it with authorities in an emergency. To help, Kidproof has designed a new iPhone app, called YouGotKids™ that allows you to easily store your child’s photo, nickname, birthdate, descriptors and medical information. The app stores info on your child’s school, sports coaches, club leaders, child care providers, family doctor, dentist and medical insurance company, and offers one-touch dial-out to police and other emergency-response agencies. The clever app even reminds you every six months to update your child’s photo. The full version is available for $1.99 at the Apple Store. In addition, you’ll want to keep a paper file of your child’s birth certificate, custody orders, dental records and passport.
When dealing with your ex, avoid confrontations and encourage cooperation and compromise. Opt for mediation, if possible, over a court order. If your ex is threatening to take your child, have someone else witness or tape the threats, and keep a log for the authorities. Don’t hesitate to request a restraining order, supervised visits or bond posting before visits.
Once custody has been determined, make sure all papers specify the days and times of visits, where your child will live, and that he should not be removed from your state or country without a judge’s consent. Provide a certified copy of the custody order, along with a photo of the non-custodial parent, to your child’s school, daycare facility, camp or sitter and specify in writing who is allowed to pick up your child. Keep two copies for yourself, in two separate, safe places, and consider filing copies with the counties where you and your ex live.
Get a passport for your child, specify in writing that your child may not be taken out of the country without your written permission, and have the passport office mail the document to you with a return-receipt requested.
Finally, don’t use child support as a condition for allowing your ex to see your child; this fans the flames and gives your ex a “reason” to flee. Follow the court’s orders to the letter, and get emergency help if you need it by calling the police right away.
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