Parental Child Abduction in the U.S.: Action Guide
The following guidance is offered with the understanding that those seeking this information have already exhausted their options and opportunities for a friendly resolution regarding the safe access of their child(ren) to both parents.
This page is being updated and has been posted as an aid to assist parents due to an increased demand for this information. The information contained on this page is still undergoing review by the appropriate agencies mentioned. Once each agency has approved this information, this page will be updated to reflect those approvals.
The best action to take when one parent threatens to abduct his/her child from the other parent is to go to a family court in the jurisdiction where the child resides and seek an emergency order directing the parent to return the child to the jurisdiction, and, possibly, that you be awarded temporary emergency custody. Through court, there are a number of options available to both parents to determine how to best ensure their child(ren)’s safe access to both of them. Remember, child custody is not about the parents’ rights over their child(ren), but the child(ren)’s rights over their parents.
If the threat was specific and requires an immediate response, go immediately to the appropriate family court in your jurisdiction and file an emergency motion for custody.
If the threat was made in combination with other threats to you – physically or verbally – and you believe you need an order of protection, go immediately to your district court and file for a protective order. Additionally, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for information and resources specific to your state and county.
If your child is presently missing follow these steps immediately:
Dial 911 and request that law enforcement file a missing child report.
*If the police refuse to file a report or refer you to a family lawyer or family court, demand that they report your child as missing per federal law (Section 3702 of the Crime Control Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 5780)). This law requires that all law enforcement enter a child reported as missing into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database within 2-hours of receiving the report and initiate a search.
**Getting law enforcement to take action when reporting your child as missing but likely with his/her other parent can be difficult. If you cannot get a positive response by phone, you MUST go to your nearest State Police location and demand, in person, that they initiate missing child procedures.
*** When you seek a missing child report it is critical that you focus your words and attention on the danger posed to your child as missing. Unless you have a custody or protective order that has been violated, any mention of custody should be eliminated. Law enforcement officers will refer your case as a civil/domestic matter the moment you discuss matters related to custody. All children who are abducted by a parent are both missing and endangered. It is essential that the focus of your request remain solely about your child’s missing status.
***If you continue to have difficulty getting law enforcement to take action, please call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-843-5678. NCMEC may be able to assist you further in obtaining action from the police.
Gather any information that you can regarding your missing child/children (i.e. recent pictures, fingerprints, last known and possible locations including phone numbers and address, etc.) and the taking parent (i.e. recent photographs, identification cards, phone numbers, address, copies of driver’s license or passport, tag/make/model/color/year of vehicle, names and contact information for family/friends, etc.)
If you have a custody or visitation agreement, have a copy of it available to provide to law enforcement authorities. If you do not have a legal judgment regarding custody or visitation, you will likely need to obtain an emergency judgment for law enforcement to act upon in order have your child(ren) returned to you. Depending on the laws in your state, this may require verified service and a waiting period of up to 48 hours. NOTE: An order of the court is NOT required for law enforcement to report your child(ren) as missing and initiate search procedures in accordance with federal laws.
If you believe your child is likely to be taken out of the U.S. to a foreign destination, it is critical that your child(ren) are reported by law enforcement as missing and entered into the NCIC database in order to stop his/her international travel by air or sea. Once you’ve ensured that he/she has been entered into NCIC, immediately contact the Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues Prevention Department at 1-888-407-4747 and request that the NCIC entry be used to initiate Prevent Abduction Program procedures until you can obtain a legal travel restraint through the court. NOTE: There are no protections at land borders (i.e. between the U.S. and Canada or Mexico).