When a parent absconds with a child or children in direct violation of a custody order – that is called parental abduction or parental kidnapping. Under normal circumstances, either parent can literally take their children anywhere they want, any time they want, for as long as they want, and they’ve violated no laws. It doesn’t even matter if the other parent objects. When custody orders are in place, that all changes. It’s parental abduction or parental kidnapping.
Parental kidnapping happens far more frequently than many people realize. The number is well in excess of 300,000 parental abductions annually in the United States alone. Parental kidnapping almost always occurs during divorce and child custody proceedings. It’s a nightmare for parents. There have been more than a few highly publicized incidents recently where children are lost for years, decades, even lifetimes – particularly when the parental kidnapping involves whisking children away to foreign lands.
It’s impossible to plan for every conceivable contingency, but there are ways to put in place protections to make a parental kidnapping much more difficult if you believe, by any stretch of your imagination, that your ex-partner is capable of doing it. It begins with a detailed parenting agreement or court order that includes specific prohibitions.
- Don’t leave your parenting time or custody agreement “informal.” Without it being made an order of the court, even if you do have an agreement with your ex-partner, unless it has the court’s approval, you will not have the law and its associated enforcement at your disposal when a parental abduction occurs.
- Your child custody order should have specific prohibitions for traveling long distances, out of state, even out of the country.
- Children’s passports should be in the possession of the court, attorney, or other independent protector of the documents.
- Register your children with the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program via the United States Department of State.
- Always have current photographs of your children available. A minimum of three sets of each, your identification set is no more than a month old at any given time and should be safe.
- Create a fingerprint card for your children. Keep it safely stored.
- Keep a list of your child’s physical characteristics; hair color, eye color, height, weight, age, any unusual scars, other markings, or distinguishing features.
- Passport numbers (if the children have them), date of issue, countries of origin.
- Driver’s license plates and state of issue, driver’s license number of both parents and any driving-aged children, if available, along with year, make, and model of any vehicles owned.
- Names, addresses, telephone numbers, and any other available contact information of all friends, relatives, acquaintances you can recall.
This list is not all-inclusive but serve as a foundation of information that could help authorities quickly close in on a perpetrator during a parental kidnapping event.
If you have a legitimate fear that your children may be parental abduction victims to another country, it is critically important that you provide copies of your lawful court order to the embassy of the countries to which your child may be taken, particularly if they have dual citizenship.
Contacting the Department of State in writing requesting notification of any attempts to obtain duplicate passports is very important. Again, clicking on the link in the list above is a fantastic starting point for putting up necessary roadblocks to help prevent your children from being taken abroad.