U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Parental Kidnapping

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1995
2 pages
This Fact Sheet examines the prevalence, methods, and impact of parental kidnapping, and strategies are suggested for law enforcement in investigating such cases.
"Parental kidnapping" occurs when a non-custodial parent takes possession of his/her child in order to prevent the custodial parent from having any contact with the child. Of the 354,000 parental abductions that occurred in 1988, it is estimated that 163,200 involved concealment, interstate transportation of the child, or evidence that the abductor intended to alter custodial privileges permanently. Recent research indicated that children experience adverse consequences from being abducted by a parent. In addition to the emotional stress and confusion experienced by child victims of a parental kidnapping, they may also experience inadequate schooling, poor nutrition, unstable lifestyles, and neglect. Some are abandoned, leading to placement in a foster home. In some cases, the children suffer long-term emotional damage. Regarding law enforcement strategies for investigating such cases, the National Center for Missing and Exploited (NCMEC) recommends that law enforcement officers investigate allegation of abuse and parental kidnapping separately and comprehensively. In cases where no civil custodial determinations are in place, NCMEC recommends that investigating officers, at a minimum, enter the child into the FBI's National Crime Information Center Missing Person File. The Family violence Project recommends the following four steps in investigating parental kidnapping cases: (1) Issue a warrant for the abducting parent; (2) Ensure that there is an adequate investigation of the potential impact of family violence linked to the kidnapping; (3) Maintain existing child custody orders until such investigation is complete; and (4) Initiate orders to protect the children until final resolution. The Federal response in such cases is also discussed. A listing of 8 resources

Date Published: November 1, 1995