Parental kidnapping is the unlawful abduction of a child by one parent which deprives the other parent of their lawful custody of the child. In divorce situations, the abductor may be the custodial or the non-custodial parent. This means that even if the abductor is the custodial parent or primary caregiver, if the abduction deprives the other parent of his or her court ordered visitation time then the custodial parent is guilty of parental child abduction.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention conducted an intensive and thorough research study on child abduction in America. The project is called the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART). The section that focused specifically on children abducted by family members is called NISMART-2. This article extensively references the NISMART-2. The original study may be found at: http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org
Defining Parental Child Abduction
“For the purposes of NISMART-2, family abduction was defined as the taking or keeping of a child by a family member in violation of a custody order, a decree, or other legitimate custodial rights, where the taking or keeping involved some element of concealment, flight, or intent to deprive a lawful custodian indefinitely of custodial privileges.”
- Taking: Child was taken by a family member in violation of a custody order or decree or other legitimate custodial right.
- Keeping: Child was not returned or given over by a family member in violation of a custody order or decree or other legitimate custodial right.
- Concealment: Family member attempted to conceal the taking or whereabouts of the child with the intent to prevent return, contact or visitation.
- Flight: Family member transported or had the intent to transport the child from the State for the purpose of making recovery more difficult.
- Intent to deprive indefinitely: Family member indicated intent to prevent contact with the child on an indefinite basis or to affect custodial privileges indefinitely.
Conceptualizing the Problem
“It is possible for a child to have been unlawfully removed from custody by a family member, but for that child’s whereabouts to be fully known. Thus, a child can be abducted but not necessarily missing.”
“Although the family abductions described in this study typically had certain disturbing elements such as attempts to prevent contact or alter custodial arrangements permanently, they did not generally involve the most serious sorts of features associated with the types of family abductions likely to be reported in the news. Actual concealment of the child occurred in a minority of episodes. Use of force, threats to harm the child and flight from the State were uncommon. In contrast to the image created by the word ‘abduction,’ most of the children abducted by a family member were already in the lawful custody of the perpetrator when the episode started. In addition, nearly half of the family abducted children were returned in 1 week or less.”
Characteristics of Parental Abductions
Police Contact. In 40% of all cases, the aggrieved parent did not contact the police to report the abduction. The study found a number of reasons for this, but the majority of responses indicated that the parent did not believe that the police would intervene in the matter because the child’s whereabouts were known, they were in the care of a legal guardian, and it did not appear that the child was being harmed. The highest percentage of abductions took place during the summer.
When the abducting parent chooses to go underground or flees the state or country, recovery of the child becomes exceptionally difficult – and sometimes impossible. Because of this, if you suspect that your child is at risk of abduction you must act now. There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of abduction, as well as actions designed to make the recovery of your child far more likely.