The profiles of parental risk for abduction described in this Bulletin were derived from a relatively small descriptive study comparing samples of abducting and litigating individuals with custody disputes. It is not known to what extent these samples are representative of the larger populations of abducting and litigating parents in other jurisdictions. These descriptive data do not provide any statistical prediction of the probability that an abduction will occur when any individual or family situation meets the criteria for one or more of these profiles; nor is it possible to estimate the probability of an abduction occurring when these criteria are not met.

Given this limited knowledge about parental abduction and the difficulty of predicting future behavior, what principles should guide the Nation’s social policies for preventive interventions? Many of the interventions prescribed above are simply good standards of professional and court practice for the provision of legal and psychological counseling, mediation, and custody evaluation services, especially to those who are economically and socially alienated. The social policy dilemmas arise in those instances involving restrictions to the custody and access rights of parents as preventive measures. Policymakers must ask, “Is it worse not to have protected a child who is subsequently abducted or to have placed restrictions on the rights of a parent who may have never abducted?” They must decide what responsibility the court should assume in protecting children from possible abduction, in the absence of any actual wrongdoing, by a divorcing parent who is, for example, foreign-born and homesick for familiar surroundings.

The authors propose that the more restrictive measures suggested in this Bulletin are warranted under three conditions:

  • When the risks for abduction are particularly high, as indicated by prior custody violations, clear evidence of plans to abduct, and overt threats to take the child.

  • When obstacles to locating and recovering an abducted child would be particularly great, as they would be in uncooperative jurisdictions in some States and abroad—especially in countries not party to the Hague Convention.

  • When the child faces substantial potential harm from an abducting parent, such as a parent who has a serious mental or personality disorder, a history of abuse or violence, or little or no prior relationship with the child.

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