Would it shock you to learn that it is reasonably estimated that in the United States each year, between 300,000 and 400,000 children are abducted by parents?  Would it surprise you that a large number of these abductions occur during the process of separation, divorce, and/or child custody actions?

It surprised us!

The information comes from:

U.S. Department of Justice. Fact Sheet on Missing Children: National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children based on the research of David Finkelhor, Gerald Hotaling, and Andrea Sedlak. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquencyy Prevention, May 1990.

The figure was estimated at 354,000 in 1988 and rising since then.

While there are a variety of reasons that prompt a parent to kidnap their own children and engage in the most serious form of custodial interference, several studies show a common set of themes (a few in a longer list):

  1. As many as 2/3 of the abductions were post-custodial offenses.  That means that the abduction occurred after the a court order had been issued dictating the custody of the child(ren).
  2. Mothers were more likely to abduct when a custody order existed
  3. Fathers were more likely to abduct when no custody order existed.
  4. Mothers were more likely to abscond with the children or otherwise deny a father’s visitation or parenting time.
  5. Fathers were more likely to use force to take their children or to fail to return them from their visitation or custody period.

These patterns of behavior are indicative of the reality that mothers are overwhelmingly the primary or sole custodial parent.

Prior to 1968, jurisdiction in child custody cases was dependent on a child’s residential within a particular state. This situation often contributed to child abductions by parents who were shopping for states that were more favorable in that regard.  It was easy to run off and simply choose the state that would give you the greatest likelihood of child custody.  It effectively provided incentive to run with the child(ren) and avoid actual kidnapping charges.

The United States has long since enacted several laws including the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA).  These laws were enacted to deter interstate parental kidnapping and enforce child custody and visitation orders established by other state’s courts. In conjunction with these laws, the issuance of criminal warrants and other deterrents are potential ways to help prevent parental child abduction from occurring during your divorce process.  They’re not foolproof and “Jurisdiction Shopping” continues this very day.  Fortunately, almost all states now have requirements for duration of residency (for example, 6-months of established residency) before they’ll even consider taking jurisdiction over a custody matter.

There are preventing measures that you can put in place to limit your exposure to parental kidnapping or, at the very list, aid authorities in finding your children and having them returned to you as quickly as possible.  They would include, in no particular order:

  • Keep a journal. Record all factual events, including threats, from your high-conflict ex-partner.  If you truly believe the likelihood of an abduction is high, be sure to record the type and color of clothing (including shoes, hats, gloves, if applicable) in the journal, too.
  • Make a list of possible suspects in advance. Include as much vital data as possible: names, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, places of employment, license plate numbers, etc.
  • Keep photographs of your children current! Once per month would be fantastic, once per quarter would be our absolute minimum suggestion.  Kids’ physical features can change rather quickly, so the greater your frequency, the better.  Additionally, a full description of your child(ren) including physical characteristics, birthmarks, piercings, hair color, eye color, height, weight, and anything else that may be helpful.  You may even consider fingerprinting your children and keeping the card in a safe, safe-deposit box, or other secure place.
  • If a threat has been made, call the police! It’s especially helpful if the threat was left on a voice mail, in an email, or some other documented media.  The mere threat may be grounds for legal action and an order of protection.
  • Notify babysitters, nanny, daycare facilities, schools. Be careful with this one and we urge you to only do this if you have verifiable evidence of an actual threat.  We are very much against false accusations and you must be aware that a false allegation can have legal consequences for you.  Consult an attorney.  We only recommend this measure if you firmly and truly believe the threat is real and verifiable.  Otherwise, you will serve to unnecessarily concern these people with a danger that isn’t real.  No one should release the children to anyone not authorized by you (the parent) and/or a court order.