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What Legal Remedies are Available if a Parent Abducts a Child?

In matters of family law, perhaps more than in any other legal area, emotions sometimes overwhelm reason and judgment. This may be especially true when children are involved. Sometimes in custody disputes, this can lead to one parent absconding with the children. This can be heartbreaking for the other parent, but fortunately, the law provides methods to help the parent bring the children back.

When a parent abducts a child, the other parent's remedies include relying on the criminal justice system and petitioning for a different custody arrangement to prevent future repeat incidents. The following is an explanation of these legal remedies.

When a Parent Abducts a Child: Criminal Law

Though law enforcement officials are typically reluctant to intervene in family issues, when it comes to kidnapping or domestic violence, law enforcement often is the best (and perhaps only) remedy available.

Parental abduction in many cases will implicate numerous federal and state laws, as well as state and federal authorities, including the FBI. The best bet in these situations is to leave the search to the experienced law enforcement officers and to allow the justice system to run its course. Parents are also free to hire their own private investigators who may be able to devote additional time and resources to the case.

Adjusting Custody

Once your child is located and returned home, you'll want to do as much as possible to prevent a future recurrence. If you previously had joint custody, and the other parent took the child, they violated the court custody order and denied you your custody rights. Parental child abduction is a very serious violation and likely will damage the abducting parent's standing in family law court and could lead to a temporary or even permanent elimination of their custody rights. Of course, this will vary by state, judge, and family.

Enforcing Child Custody Orders

Every case of child abduction or kidnapping by a parent is also likely a violation of a custody order. Because of that, many of the remedies in a child abduction case are the same as those available for any violation of a child custody order. Some of the penalties for violating custody orders are large fines, jail time, loss of custody, or loss of visitation rights.

Parental Child Abduction: International Disputes

This is the most difficult of parental abduction cases. When a parent abducts a child across borders, the law is far less equipped to provide a remedy. In some cases, the parent will flee to a country that has agreed to an international treaty, such as the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. If so, a combination of legal and political pressure could lead to your child's return. In this case, it may be beneficial to contact public officials who may be able to use their political clout to help realize the return of your child.

Outside of those countries, however, your remedies will vary greatly. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs can provide certain limited resources to help with instances of international parental child abduction.

Learn More About Legal Remedies When a Parent Abducts a Child: Call a Lawyer

Children need protection, especially during tense domestic disputes when one parent may act on impulse without thinking through the consequences. If you're worried about the safety of your children, a family law attorney can review the custody situation in your case and work with the court to obtain stronger protections for your children. Learn more about available legal remedies by getting in touch with a qualified family law attorney licensed in your state.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified child custody attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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