Common Characteristics of Abducting Parents

Before presenting the distinguishing features of the risk profiles, it is important to describe the features that most of the profiles have in common:

  • Abducting parents are likely to deny and dismiss the other parent’s value to the child. This tendency is greater in abducting parents than in parents who chronically litigate custody. Abducting parents believe that they, more than anyone else, know what is best for their child; they cannot see how, or even why, they should share parenting with their ex-partner.

  • Abducting parents are likely to have very young children (the mean age is 2–3). Such children are easier to transport and conceal, are unlikely to verbally protest, and may be unable to tell others their name or other identifying information. Older children who are taken or retained in violation of custody orders are usually those who are particularly vulnerable to influence or have colluded with the abducting parent.

  • Most abducting parents (except those characterized as paranoid delusional) are likely to have the support of a social network—family, friends, cultural communities, cult-like groups, or an underground dissident movement—that provides not only practical assistance (money, food, lodging) but also emotional and moral support to validate the abducting parent’s extralegal actions.

  • Most custody violators do not consider their actions illegal or morally wrong, even after the involvement of the district attorney’s office.

  • Mothers and fathers are equally likely to abduct their children, although at different times—fathers, when there was no child custody order in place; mothers, after the court had issued a formal custody decree.

It is significant that half of the families studied fit more than one risk profile. For this reason, a combination of strategies was often needed to help settle custody disputes.

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Family Abductors: Descriptive Profiles and Preventive Interventions Juvenile Justice Bulletin January 2001