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Parental Abductions – Tips on How to Protect Your Child and Yourself

There have been a number of reports of children abducted by a parent. Some of them have been reunited with the custodial parent, while others have been brutally murdered, like two-year-old Tierra Morgan-Glover whose father threw her body, strapped into a car seat and weighted down with a car jack, into a stream.

Each year, over 200,000 children are kidnapped by a family member, many more children than are kidnapped by strangers. The good news is that family abductions can often be prevented.

Many custodial parents are not aware that parental kidnapping can happen. The following information can help you keep your children safe.

Why Do Parents Kidnap Their Own Children?

Child custody kidnapping experts say that people kidnap their own children for the following reasons:

  • To force a reconciliation or continued interaction with the other parent
  • To spite or punish the other parent
  • From fear of losing custody or visitation rights
  • In rare cases, to protect the child from a parent who is perceived to molest, abuse, or neglect the child

Is Your Child At Risk for Parental Child Abduction?

A direct threat of a child abduction should always be taken seriously. If your relationship with the other parent is volatile, and you argue over visitation, be concerned.

Here are some common warning signs.

If the other parent:

  • Has threatened abduction or has actually abducted the child in the past
  • Is suspected of abuse, and these suspicions are supported by family and friends
  • Is paranoid, delusional or severely sociopathic
  • Is a citizen of another country and is ending a mixed-culture marriage
  • Feels alienated from the legal system, and has family/social support in another community
  • Has no strong ties to the child’s home state
  • Has no job, is able to work anywhere, or is not financially tied to the area
  • Is planning to quit a job, sell a home, closing bank accounts, applying for passports, and obtaining school or medical records

Tips to Prevent Family Child Abduction

These are important steps you can take to clearly establish legal custody of your children, and to help prevent a kidnapping.


  • Respect the other parent’s custody and visitation rights. Anger, frustration and desperation are leading causes of family abduction.
  • Attempt to maintain a friendly relationship with your ex-spouse and his/her family. If a kidnapping does occur, you will need the support of the kidnapper’s family to bring your child home safely.
  • Consider counseling. As little as 10 hours of intervention can reduce the stress, anger and frustration that lead to family abduction.
  • Begin the custody process immediately. You cannot prove your custody rights without a custody order.
  • Include abduction prevention measures in the custody order.
  • Keep a certified copy of the custody order with you at home.
  • Record and document abduction threats. Report them immediately to family court or your lawyer.
  • Ask the police to intervene and warn the non-custodial parent of criminal consequences—family abduction is often a felony.
  • Notify schools, healthcare providers, day care and baby sitters of custody orders. Certified copies of custody orders should be on file at the school office, etc.
  • Keep lists of identifying information about the non-custodial parent, including social security numbers, current photos, license plate numbers and bank and credit card accounts.
  • File a certified copy of the custody order in the non-custodial parent’s state, so that state’s courts know about the order.
  • Obtain a passport for your child, and notify the passport office that your child is not to leave the country without your written permission.

Your Children:

  • Keep completed child ID documents for each child. Update the color photo every six months.
  • Teach your children:
    • Their full name. Your full name, address and phone numbers.
    • How to use cell, home, and pay phones to call for help. Have them practice these calls.
    • Every day, reassure your children.
    • You will always love them.
    • You will always look for them if they don’t come home.

When the Kidnapper Leaves the Country

Sometimes a family abductor will take the child out of the United States. The Polly Klaas® Foundation recommends the following US State Department and Office of Children’s Issues resources for help:

Note: You can download this fact sheet and other educational materials at, or request materials and Child ID kits for families by calling the Polly Klaas Foundation at 1-800-587-4357.

Photo credit: Caleb Oquendo from Pexels

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