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What Constitutes Parental Kidnapping?



Parental kidnapping or parental abduction is defined as the concealment, taking, or retention of a child by his parent in violation of the rights of the child's other parent or another family member. Violated rights may include, for example, custody and visitation rights. Sadly, thousands of children are abducted by a parent and removed from the United States annually. Even more children are kidnapped by a parent within the confines of U.S. borders. Parental kidnapping also happens when a child is abducted from a custodial parent abroad and transported into the United States by the non-custodial parent illegally.

More Than Just a Custody Dispute

Make no mistake – parental kidnapping is illegal. Parental kidnapping is far more than a dispute regarding custody matters between divorcing parents. Such matters are relegated to the civil courts; however, parental kidnapping is a criminal act. In fact, parental kidnapping violates the laws of all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands, plus U.S. federal laws and international laws. It is dangerous and can be deadly.

Parentally-abducted children live a life on the run as if fugitives. It is not uncommon to see a child receive a new name, nickname, haircut, dyed hair, glasses, or otherwise altered appearance. Children may be coached not to reveal their true names, birth dates, home states and addresses, and other identifying information. They may move often to avoid detection and recovery. School performance and social relationships suffer materially (that is, if the child is permitted to attend school). Even medical treatment may suffer because of requirements for identifying information involved in the registration for care and insurance claims processing.

Traumatic for Children

Parentally-abducted children are traumatized emotionally and psychologically, especially if they are brainwashed by the abducting parent to believe that the other parent no longer loves them or has died. Abducted children are truly innocent victims of their parents' decisions and actions. Their relationships with other family members, perhaps even siblings and grandparents, are terminated, and their sense of family, belonging, and identity is compromised, if not lost entirely in the process.

What typically starts as a custody dispute balloons into a much larger tragedy with long-term and widespread impacts. Perhaps most tragic are the higher risk factors that abducted children face for severe psychological conditions such as reactive attachment disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder in both the short and long terms.

Parental abduction may seem a last resort and only remaining alternative to a parent fearful of an abusive situation involving the other parent, an international move instigated by the other parent, or even an unfavorable custody dispute playing out in the courts. Ultimately, working within the family court system to resolve custody matters within the confines of the law is preferable for preserving the well-being of all involved.