Family Abductions

The largest number of missing children are classified as "runaways;" followed by "family abductions;" then "lost, injured, or otherwise missing children;" and finally, the smallest category (but the one in which the child is at greatest risk of injury or death) "non-family abductions."

There is often the assumption that family abductions are not a serious matter however, this is far from true. Children who are victims of family abductions may suffer emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of there own family. Parental abductions may result from a stressful marital situation or follow a divorce or separation. The abducted child can suffer lasting effects from being uprooted from family, familiar schools, and friends. Life is frequently "on the run," and the child is often moved to other states or countries where their name may be changed to avoid detection. In many cases children are told that the left-behind parent doesn't want or love them, making these cases even more traumatic.

Whether dealing with a domestic or international family abduction, law enforcement should take family abductions seriously and assist the lawfully authorized custodial parent to their fullest capacity. Responding to family abductions can be challenging for both law enforcement and the family because there are often two systems: the criminal justice system and the civil court system.

In an effort to assist parents in case of a family abduction these preventative suggestions are offered by the Massachusetts Missing Children Clearinghouse:

Keys to Prevention

Healthy Communication with your Child

  • Assure your children that you love them and always want to see them, no matter what anyone else tells them
  • Establish an atmosphere of trust and support so your children feel secure in discussing situations that make them afraid
  • Teach your children your home telephone number (including area code) and instructions on how to dial the telephone
  • Instruct them to call "911" or "0" for help or an emergency
  • Keep lists of phone numbers of trusted family members/close friends clearly visible. Instruct the children who to call in case of an emergency
  • Teach you child to ask law enforcement for help if at an airport or if traveling without your permission

Preparation for the Unforeseen

If there is a threat of a family abduction, keep up-to-date information about your estranged spouse or family members:

  • Social security number
  • Driver's license number
  • Vehicle registration number
  • Bank account numbers
  • Credit card numbers
  • Passport numbers
  • Medical insurance numbers
  • Keep lists of information regarding potential abductor
  • addresses
  • phone numbers
  • social security number
  • passport number
  • birthdays of all relatives and friends of the non-custodial parent

Custody and Provisions

  • Even if you are not legally married, you should obtain legal custody (parental responsibility) of your child from the family probate court
  • Consider requesting special provisions in your custody order addressing visitation rights (exact dates and times for pickup and return of the child), removal of the child from the state, and provisions for joint or shared custody to protect against abduction
  • Make sure your custody order specifies with whom the child is to reside. If there is a rotating schedule, specify the days and times in the order. Concretely specify restricted removal of your child the state/country without prior consent from the judge and/or both custodial parents
  • Notify schools, day care centers and baby sitters of custody orders. Give copies to such caretakers and ask to be alerted if the non-custodial parent makes an unscheduled visit to the facility
  • File a certified copy of your custody decree in the non-custodial parent's home county (state). This notifies the court in that county (state) that a valid decree has already been issued and must be honored. Also consider filing a copy with counties in which the non-custodial parent has close friends or relatives
  • Keep all information in two separate and secure places

Preparation of Documents

  • Take color photographs of your child every six months; head and shoulder photographs from different angles
  • Arrange with your local law enforcement agency to have your children fingerprinted. For fingerprints to be useful in identification, they must be properly taken. Contact your local law enforcement agency (who has trained personnel) to help ensure fingerprints are properly taken. The law enforcement agency will give you the fingerprint card but will not keep a record of fingerprints taken
  • Keep a written description of your child, including hair and eye color, height, weight, date of birth and specific physical attributes such as eye glasses, braces, piercings, etc.
  • Assemble a packet of your child's birth certificate, photos, dental records, fingerprint card, and custody decree. Ensure these materials are kept in a secure location
  • Notify you child's school of your family situation and provide them with a copy of your custody decree, a photo of your estranged spouse and a list of person's who are permitted to pick up your child

If Your Child is a Victim of a Family Abduction:

  • Immediately report the incident to your local police department. Also consider a protection order (209A)
  • Document any/all information you can remember about your last encounter with the child (see intake form)
  • Keep a chronological record of events. Note dates, times, actions, occurrences and whom you speak with for later reference
  • Provide law enforcement with a physical description of your child and the non-custodial abductor
  • Have a certified copy of your custody decree
  • Provide the police with as much detailed information about your estranged spouse or family member including a recent photograph if available
  • Keep law enforcement officials advised of any communications with the abductor
  • Consider criminal charges and any potential civil recourse against the abductor
  • Flag key records: Instruct your doctor's, school etc not to release any records about your child to any unauthorized sources and to immediately notify you if any requests are made

International Abductions

Although some juveniles are abducted for prostitution or domestic help, most international abductions are family abductions. Therefore, it is important to know the laws and customs of the destination country before giving permission for the non-custodial parent to travel with your child. Many countries, including the United States, consider both parents to have equal legal custody if there is no custody decree prior to the abduction. It is recommended that your custody decree prohibits your child from traveling abroad without the custodial parent's permission.

International abductions can be legally intricate and complicated. For more detailed information please contact the Clearinghouse directly or utilize the following link: