Parental child abduction

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Parental child abduction is child abduction by a parent. It often occurs when the parents separate or begin divorce proceedings. One parent may remove or retain the child from the other seeking to gain an advantage in expected or pending child-custody proceedings or because that parent fears losing the child in those expected or pending child-custody proceedings; a parent may refuse to return a child at the end of an access visit or may flee with the child to prevent an access visit or fear of domestic violence and abuse.

Child abduction may also occur when a child has been, is about to be or parent(s) fear that s/he will be, taken into care of the competent authorities, usually due to child endangerment proceedings.


Parental child abductions may be within the same city, within the state region or within the same country, or may be international. Studies performed for the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reported that in 1999, 53% percent of family-abducted children were gone less than one week, and 21% were gone one month or more.[1]

Depending on the laws of the state and country in which the parental abduction occurs, this may or may not constitute a criminal offense. For example, removal of a child from the UK for a period of 28 days or more without the permission of the other parent (or person with parental responsibility) is a criminal offense. In many states of the United States, if there is no formal custody order, and the parents are not living together, the removal of a child by one parent is not an offense. In Australia the absconding parent, usually the mother, is awarded with the Family Court's presumption of residency status quo after keeping the child for a minimum of three weeks.

Many US states have criminalized interstate child abduction. The first state to pass a parental kidnapping prevention law was California. Written by Larry Synclair, the father of a child abducted to Russia, the law was called the Synclair-Cannon Act. Texas soon followed. Teresa Laudedale, also a parent, litigated to prevent the abduction of her children, along with Cathy Brown. They made many enhancements to the Synclair-Cannon Act, which resulted in the creation of a prevention law for Texas. Lauderdale and Brown encouraged Brown's former attorney to take it to National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL); he is a Texas commissioner with NCCUSL. NCCUSL drafted a uniform state law dealing with parental abduction, UCAPA (Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act). By 2010 about nine states had adopted UCAPA, while many more have pending legislation.[2]


Because newspapers did not begin printing modern-style articles on crimes until the 1820s, most of the surviving documentation of parental child abduction is to be found in legal debt disclaimers placed as (usually formulaic) ads in newspapers. One of these, placed by William Holt in the New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth) on May 9, 1760, describes the father's desire to have his child returned to him, his willingness to cover his wife's debts if this were done, and his offer to forgive his wife Beulah if she were to return to him. Debt disclaimer ads which describe parental child abductions were common from the mid-18th century through the 1830s. Many scores of these ads are to be found in surviving copies of newspapers.

The Tuthell case supplies a rare exception, in that the resolution of the case was reported in newspapers because the searching parent, Edward B. Tuthell of Monroe, New York, had published and ad (which was reprinted in other newspapers) offering a hefty reward of $300 (a combined reward, with a $200 reward for locating the two adults and $100 for returning the child to the father safely). In one appearance the ad was headlined: “300 Dollars Reward. The Public is earnestly requested to apprehend a finished villain,” (Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pa.), July 16, 1810, p. 4)

Mrs. Tuthell had run off on July 3, 1810, with one Charles D. Walsingham, who apparently was wanted for fraud in another matter, taking the 7-month old baby, Susan. Eventually the adulterers and child were located and Walshingham, faced with capture, committed suicide.

International child abduction

International child abduction occurs when a parent, relative or acquaintance of a child leaves the country with the child or children in violation of a custody decree or visitation order. Another related situation is retention, where children are taken on an alleged vacation to a foreign country and are not returned.

While the number of cases of international child abduction is small in comparison to domestic cases,[clarification needed] they are often the most difficult to resolve due to the involvement of conflicting international jurisdictions. Two-thirds of international parental abduction cases involve mothers who often allege domestic violence. Even when there is a treaty agreement for the return of a child, the court may be reluctant to return the child if the return could result in the permanent separation of the child from their primary caregiver. This could occur if the abducting parent faced criminal prosecution or deportation by returning to the child's home country.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international human rights treaty and legal mechanism to recover children abducted to another country. The Hague Convention does not provide relief in many cases, resulting in some parents hiring private parties to recover their children. Covert recovery was first made public when Don Feeney, a former Delta Commando, responded to a desperate mother's plea to locate and recover her daughter from Jordan in the 1980s. Feeney successfully located and returned the child. A movie and book about Feeney's exploits led to other desperate parents seeking him out for recovery services.[3][4]

By 2007, the United States, European authorities, and NGOs had begun serious interest in the use of mediation as a means by which some international child abduction cases may be resolved. The primary focus was on Hague cases. Development of mediation in Hague cases, suitable for such an approach, had been tested and reported by REUNITE,[5] a London-based NGO which provides support in international child abduction cases, as successful. Their reported success led to the first international training for cross-border mediation in 2008, sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.[6] Held at the University of Miami School of Law, lawyers, judges, and certified mediators interested in international child abduction cases attended.

International child abduction is not new. A case of international child abduction has been documented aboard the Titanic. However, the incidence of international child abduction continues to increase due to the ease of international travel, an increase in bi-cultural marriages and a high divorce rate. Parental abduction has been defined by Nancy Faulkner as child abuse.[7]

See also