Definition and Legal
For purposes of this Bulletin (and for
much of the research conducted on this
issue), parental abduction (also referred
to as "family abduction") is defined as
"the taking, retention, or concealment of
child or children by a parent, other family
member, or their agent, in derogation of
the custody rights, including visitation
rights, of another parent or family member"
(Girdner, 1993:1–11). Abductors may
be other family members or their agents
(e.g., girlfriend, boyfriend, grandparent,
or even a private investigator), although
in most cases the abductor is a child's
parent (Girdner, 1993). Some State criminal
statutes use the term "custodial interference"
(rather than parental abduction,
family abduction, or kidnapping) when
referring to this crime and may include
incidents in which children are detained
or enticed away from the custodial parent.
Custodial interference can also be
defined to include interference with a
court order of visitation or access.
Although many individuals, including
some law enforcement personnel, perceive
parental abduction as "civil in nature" and
a private family matter best handled outside
the realm of the criminal justice system,
it is a crime in all 50 States and the
District of Columbia and, in most cases,
constitutes a felony. In some States, parental
abduction constitutes a crime only
in cases in which a custody order has
been violated. In others, no custody order
is required for parental abduction to be
considered a criminal offense.
|Criminal and Civil Laws Regarding Parental Abduction
The Missing Children's Act of 1982 (28 U.S.C. § 534(a)). This Act requires the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to enter descriptive information on missing
children into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, a computer
database with information on missing persons that can be accessed by law enforcement
The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. § 5780). This
Act requires that State and local law enforcement agencies immediately enter information
on missing children younger than 18 into the NCIC database and prohibits
such agencies from maintaining any waiting period prior to taking a report
of a missing child.
The Missing Children's Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. §§ 5771 et seq.). Enacted in
1984 and reauthorized in 1988, 1992, and 1999, this Act resulted in the establishment
of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. NCMEC serves as
a national resource center on missing children, providing support to criminal justice
system personnel and aggrieved parents as they seek to identify and recover
missing children, including those who have been abducted by a parent. It operates
a toll-free hotline, provides technical assistance to law enforcement personnel in
the field, and educates the public and others on relevant issues.
The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980 (28 U.S.C. § 1738A). Providing
for civil remedies, this Federal Act gives jurisdictional priority to the child's home
State in parental abduction cases where conflicts arise between two States. It extends
the Federal Fugitive Felon Act to cases in which a child has been taken out
of a State where that act would constitute a felony, thus enabling the FBI to investigate.
It also authorizes certain persons access to the Federal Parent Locator Service
for purposes of identifying the whereabouts of a parentally abducted child.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). An important civil remedy
that exists to combat parental abduction, this jurisdictional statute governs
when a court has jurisdiction over a parental abduction case and attempts to prevent
the occurrence of simultaneous proceedings in two different States. It has
been enacted with some variation in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and
the Virgin Islands.
The Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).
The Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, adopted unanimously
by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in
1997 and approved by the American Bar Association in 1998, amends UCCJA to
bring it into conformity with the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act. UCCJEA also
clarifies jurisdictional provisions of UCCJA that courts have interpreted inconsistently
across the country. As of January 2001, 22 States had enacted UCCJEA.1
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
This Convention, ratified by the United States in 1988, is an international treaty currently
in effect in 43 countries.2 It serves to simplify and expedite the return process
when children have been abducted internationally. The Convention's implementing
procedures can be found in the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (42
U.S.C. §§ 11601 et seq.). In 1993, the United States also passed the International
Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (18 U.S.C. § 1204), making the abduction or retention
of a child from the United States a felony.
1. For more detail about UCCJEA, including a list of States that have adopted the Act, see http://www.nccusl.org/nccusl/uniformact_factsheets/uniformacts-fs-uccjea.asp.
2. For the most recent list of countries that have ratified the Hague Convention, see http://travel.state.gov/hague_list.html.
|The Criminal Justice System's Response to Parental Abduction
Justice Bulletin December 2001