Parental Child Abduction: What Is It and How Can You Prevent It?

Are you worried that your ex-spouse might kidnap your child? Learn what to do and how to take steps to prevent kidnapping.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley Law
Considering Divorce? We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
First Name is required
First Name is required

Many people are surprised to learn that parents can be criminally prosecuted for abducting their own children. It's a crime for anyone—parent, relative, or stranger—to take, hide, or keep a child away from the child's custodial parent. Here's what you need to know about how to prevent and respond to parental child abduction.

How to Respond to a Parental Child Abduction

It's more common than you might think for one parent to take or keep the children without the other parent's consent, especially during custody battles. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMC), there were 11,581 children abducted by a parent or family member between 2008 and 2017.

If you suspect your child has been abducted by the child's other parent or a relative, contact local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities. You'll need to provide them with a physical description of your child, a recent photograph, and a copy of your custody order. You may also call NCMC at 800-843-5678. The organization has a 24-hour hotline to report a missing child and receive assistance with the search; other services include reunification services once a child is found, and referrals to experienced professionals who can help with the emotional fallout of a child abduction.

If you think your spouse might try to leave the country with your child, contact the Office of Children's Issues at 888-407-4747. The agency provides prevention tips and information and assists with international abduction cases by assigning a case officer who helps you deal with your local law enforcement agencies and with the search for your child. You should also contact a family law attorney right away, so you can get accurate information about your custody rights and advice on how to proceed.

How to Prevent a Parental Child Abduction

If you suspect that your children's other parent is likely to remove them to another location, take steps to try to prevent abduction and to prepare yourself for the possibility:

  • Learn about the Hague Convention and international kidnapping.
  • Make sure you have current contact information for the other parent's relatives, friends, and business associates both here and abroad.
  • Keep a record of identifying information about the other parent, including physical description and a current photograph, passport number (a copy of the passport is even better), social security number, bank information, driver's license number, and automobile make, model, and license plate number.
  • Maintain a current written description of your kids, including hair and eye color, height, weight, and any special physical characteristics. Keep it updated as they grow.
  • Take color pictures or videos of your children at least every six months.
  • Go to your local police department and get a set of fingerprints for each of your children, so they can be transmitted to another state or country to help identify the kids.
  • Teach your children how to use the phone, including how to make collect calls, and make sure they know your phone numbers. Tell them to call you immediately if anything unusual happens and give them a second person to call if they can't reach you.

If you have strong suspicions that the other parent might take the kids very soon, you could hire a private investigator to follow along on visits. But if the person you hire interferes with the visitation you could get in trouble for interfering with the other parent's custody or visitation rights. If you decide the risk is worth it, find someone who has experience in dealing with potential parental abduction cases.

Excerpted from Nolo's Essential Guide to Child Custody and Support, by Emily Doskow.

Considering Divorce?
Talk to a Divorce attorney.
We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you