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We consult with parents of abducted children in both U.S. and abroad and assist in strategy and bringing your child home.

Interstate and International Parental Abduction Support

Engage the Court System or Family Law System


Parental child abductions can be very complicated. Each abduction case is unique and decisions about how to proceed, find and return the child will depend on a number of factors. It is the searching parent’s responsibility to bring the case to the attention of the criminal (i.e. law enforcement, crown prosecutors, and federal government) and civil (i.e. private lawyer, and family law branches) authorities. Usually these two processes happen at the same time. Depending on the facts of the case, when one parent has taken or keeps a child from the other parent, criminal charges may apply. Where criminal charges are not laid, a searching parent can still take civil enforcement action. Due to the complexities involved, it is extremely important that a searching parent talk to the police and a lawyer as soon as possible to learn about what options are available and to make use of the assistance that can be provided - as well as an organization such as ours. For example, even if criminal charges are not appropriate for the situation, the police should still be contacted as they may still be able to assist a parent by locating and speaking to the other parent who has taken or is keeping the child.

 

For civil proceedings, if paying for a lawyer is a concern, most provinces have Legal Aid or related programs to help assist with legal costs.

 

The way you proceed will depend on:

  1.   Whether you know where your child has been taken — this helps you determine if you need to involve other authorities and organizations like ours.

  2.   If you have a custody order or agreement in place.

  3.   What the current custody order says — for example, an order that is specific about dates and times of access may be easier for police to enforce.


If you believe your child is in another province, you may be able to register your court order in the other province, or you may need to make an application for a court order that requires law enforcement in that province to locate the child to enforce the existing order. Whether an existing order is being registered, or an application for a new or further order is being made, the goal is to ensure that the police have the authority to enforce the order in the province where the child is.


  1.   You need to ensure that your custody order is the most recent order granted. It is possible that the abducting parent has sought a new order without your knowledge. Your lawyer should be able to access this information for you or you can check with the courts.


About hiring lawyers...

You need to be aware that a great amount of money has been spent on U.S. lawyers in foreign abduction cases. The unfortunate fact is that they, most often, can’t practice in the foreign courts and are required to hire associate lawyers in the foreign country.


More money...

Even if the U.S. lawyer is able to get a warrant in a U.S. court, in the foreign country it is often looked upon as “just another piece of paper.” Is the U.S. lawyer going to personally go to the foreign country and take custody of the abducted child?


Equally bad is the fact that the foreign court will usually rule in favor of its own citizens, if it even acknowledges your case at all.


Educate yourself

Many resources are available to help you learn about parental child abduction. If you're dealing with an abduction, the better informed you are, the better equipped you'll be to cope. However, your best bet is to call us, so we can give you information based on your specific case.


Here are some links to agencies and information you might find helpful:

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Probably the best place to start for general information

International Centre for Missing Children
An international organization that deals with missing children

Interpol
An international police agency that does its best to combat international child abductors Federal Bureau of Investigation.


The U.S. law enforcement agency that handles interstate and international matters

The Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
An international treaty, ratified by the U.S. in 1988, that governs the return of abducted children to their custodial parents, commonly known as the Hague Convention


Tools Available in the Event of a Parental Child Abduction

  Criminal Charges


An abduction charge may be laid when one parent, without the legal authority or the permission of the other parent, takes or keeps a child under 14 years of age away from the other parent. For the purpose of laying charges, it does not matter whether there is an American custody order or not, however, in most cases the searching parent must have a right of custody before charges will be laid. If the searching parent’s rights are limited to access (i.e. the other parent has sole custody), the searching parent may be limited to civil enforcement remedies except as described below.


Not all cases of parental child abduction will be considered criminal in nature, and there are many circumstances where criminal charges will not be considered appropriate and civil enforcement action will need to be pursued.


Once a charge is laid, the police may seek a warrant for the arrest of the abductor, and it is possible for the warrant to cover all of America, or the states of interest, facilitating law enforcement action.


Criminal charges differ from civil enforcement in many respects. In a criminal proceeding, law enforcement takes the lead on the investigation, and your Attorney takes the lead in identifying and pursuing the required applications and orders. In civil enforcement proceedings, you need to take on the lead role.


What if there is no U.S. custody order? Can an abduction charge still be laid?

Yes. Here are some examples of situations where a charge of abduction may be laid, even if there is no custody order:

  1. *The parents and child have lived together at some point after the child’s birth and one parent takes the child from the other parent without the other’s consent, intending to deprive the other of their rights as a parent.

  2. *The parents are separated and previously agreed that their child will live with one of them. Unless the parent who has been living with the child consents, the other parent cannot later decide to keep or take the child away, unless the other parent gets a court order allowing this to occur.

* There is a foreign custody order not being complied with.

 

What happens once an abduction charge is laid?

Where an abduction charge is laid against a parent, a warrant may be issued for the arrest of the abducting parent. This warrant may be state-wide or for a specific state or cover the entire country. This means the parent can be arrested where the warrant applies and returned to the jurisdiction to face the criminal charge. If convicted, the abductor may be imprisoned for up to 3 years. Other considerations apply where a child has been taken outside of America.

 

What if an abduction charge is not laid?

Even if it is not possible or appropriate for a parent to be charged with parental child abduction in a particular case, the police may still be able to assist a parent by locating and speaking to the other parent who has taken or is keeping the child. For the above reason, if a child has been taken away by one parent without the other custodial parent’s consent, the police should be contacted immediately. Contact your local law enforcement agency or Police Service and seek advice from the duty officer. In an emergency, call 911.

 

Enforcement by the Civil Courts

If your child has been parentally abducted, but you believe (or know) that they are still within the state, pursuing enforcement through civil court may be an option.

 

What is Civil Court?

Family court is a civil court. The civil court process is different from the criminal court process. In criminal court, the Prosecuting Attorney makes the necessary applications and takes on a lead role in identifying and pursuing the required orders. In civil court, the process is led by individuals usually represented by lawyers. Given that difference, and given the complexities that can be involved, it is best to consult with a lawyer to help you identify your options and then to help you navigate through the court process.

 

Getting a Lawyer

To help you consider what other options that may be available, you should consult a lawyer who practices primarily in the area of family law. Your lawyer should be able to assist you in your dealings with the police as well as with any civil enforcement action. It is very important that you clarify your custody arrangements. If you do not have a custody order in place, this will need to be your first step.

The lawyer you retain could be within your own city if your child is still within the same city. If you believe your child has been taken outside of your city or county, you likely need to consult with a lawyer within that other county as state laws vary.

 

Obtaining a Custody Order

If you do not have a current order in place you may be able to seek an ex-parte custody order, meaning that the abducting parent will not have notice of the hearing. An ex-parte order is an extreme remedy which the court may grant only in very special circumstances (e.g. if the court is satisfied you or the child will be in danger if the other parent has notice of the application, etc.).

An ex-parte custody order would only last until such time that the abducting parent appears in court but may assist in facilitating the return of the child.

This option should be pursued by your family lawyer immediately after dealing with police.

 

If You Already Have a Custody Order in Place

If you already have a custody order in place, the goal will be to use the civil court system to enforce compliance with such custody order in the province where you believe the child to be. The applications that need to be made will differ based upon whether the child is believed to be within the province where the order was granted or another province. If the child is believed to be within your province, consult with your lawyer about the steps that can be taken.


You need to ensure that your custody order is the most recent order granted. It is possible that the abducting parent has sought a new order without your knowledge. Your lawyer should be able to access this information for you or you can check with the courts.


 International Parental Child Abduction

If you believe (or know) that your child was taken by their other parent outside of America, and you know what country they have gone to, the following options may apply:

 

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

If a parent abducts a child from America (or to America from another country) an international treaty called The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (The Hague Convention) may be of assistance. The treaty allows parents with custody rights (whether or not there is an order) to request the return of their children from another country. The Hague Convention requires that children wrongfully removed from the country of their residence or wrongfully kept in another country, when the searching parent has a right of custody, be promptly returned to his or her own country. The Convention applies to children under 16 years of age. Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

 

Signatories to The Hague Convention

About 80 countries around the world have now signed and agreed to comply with the terms of The Hague Convention and it is in effect between America and 68 of these countries. Hague Convention Country Status Table

 

How to Facilitate a Child’s Return Using the Hague Convention

Each country (and in America each state) has to appoint an official as “Central Authority” to assist with the operation of the Convention and the handling of incoming and outgoing cases. The Central Authority can be contacted for more information about how to request a child’s return and to learn if The Hague Convention is law in the country where a child has been taken. The first step to engaging the Hague Convention is to contact the Central Authority in your province: 

US STATE DEPARTMENT - CENTRAL AUTHORITY


The role of the Central Authority is to guide you through the process and where appropriate, make the necessary applications on your behalf. Keep in mind that in international cases, criminal charges may not be laid against the abducting parent out of concern that such charges could hinder attempts to have the child returned to America pursuant to the Hague Convention. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and the Central Authority is familiar with the various considerations that need to be taken into account in these cases.

Even if a child is abducted to a country that is not a party to the Hague Convention, an application to a foreign court to enforce a US court order may still be possible and may result in an order for the return of the child. Parents should obtain legal information and advice as to their options from a lawyer in the country in question.

 

Who Else Can Help With International Parental Child Abduction Cases?

We provide parents of internationally-abducted children with a range of assistance, including names of lawyers and information on the legal system in the other country, certification of documents, ascertaining the welfare of the child, obtaining passport and Visa information and reporting on the status of court proceedings.


When an American child is abducted to another country, Consular Services works closely with the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues and government offices abroad, the local police, the Ministry of Interiors, the Hague Convention Central Authorities and others. Assistance is provided only by explicit request. You can contact Consular Services, Children’s Issues 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 


When you call, be sure to never sign a waiver of any kind.

 

Media, Other Groups and the Public

In a time of crisis, there are unfortunately individuals and groups who may use this opportunity to take advantage of you. It is almost certain that you will be contacted by individuals who claim they can help.

 

The Media

If your child has been abducted by their other parent, it is vitally important that you do not engage any media without the guidance of law enforcement. This cannot be overstated.

 

In a short-term situation, it is not often advised to engage the media; however, this may change over time. You and the police must assess the potential risks and benefits associated with the release of information about your child. A common risk to consider is what impact this exposure will have on the abducting parent. Will they panic? Will they act irrationally? Will media exposure drive them further underground? Or, if there is a reasonable expectation that your child may be located through other avenues, what will the impact of media exposure be on your child and their relationship with you and their abducting parent?

 

The time to involve the media in a parental abduction situation is going to vary drastically depending on your situation.

If your child has been taken, and you believe they are either at risk of harm or at considerable risk to be removed from your jurisdiction, you will want to immediately consult with police about engaging the media.


In rare circumstances, where the safety and well-being of the child is considered to be in serious jeopardy, police may consider issuing an AMBER Alert.


In situations where things may be resolved in an amicable fashion, involving the media can possibly provoke further complications.

 

You may have difficulty gaining media attention right away. If you are engaging the media to help in the search for your parentally-abducted child, focus on your child’s location and well-being. Avoid negative statements about the taking parent and stay true to the primary goal of bringing your child home. If you are in this type of situation, it is important that you develop a media plan in consultation with law enforcement and a caseworker here.

 

Also, if the media is involved, it is wise to avoid providing them with personal contact information such as your home phone or cell number. Consider appointing another person to be the point of contact for media calls. If that is not an option, you could obtain a temporary cell phone to manage media calls and requests. This will make it easier for you to disengage from the media when you need to. Do not hesitate to ask for help with managing the media and dealing with persistent media requests. The founder and director, Dawn Willson is s media professional by trade.

 

Psychics

You will almost certainly be contacted by psychics claiming to have knowledge of where your child is, who they are with, and their condition. At IPA.org, we do not endorse the use of psychics, and we are not aware of any circumstance in America where information from a psychic has led to the recovery of a missing child. It may be tempting to explore the use of a psychic, particularly if traditional methods are not turning up any leads. However, it’s important to be cautious, particularly in the exchange of money. It is very likely that the ultimate details of your case will fit in some way with the general description that psychics are able to provide. Any information received by psychics should be passed on to law enforcement.

 

If you are considering turning to a psychic, remember the following tips:

  1.   Ask someone close to the family to record any psychic leads because the information is usually distressing. Give all such leads to law enforcement.

  2.   If any lead is highly specific, such as a particular address, insist that law enforcement check it out. Follow up with law enforcement to find out the value of the lead.

  3.   Never allow a psychic to go into your child's room unattended or to take items without making arrangements for their return.

Regardless of whether some psychics have true visions, any purportedly psychic dream may be an actual observation by someone who is afraid to get involved. That is why even psychic leads need to be checked out whenever possible.

 

Individuals or Organizations That Assist in Searches

There are people and groups that have search training and may be able to assist. These third parties may include online search companies, private investigators, search and rescue organizations, missing children services organizations, etc. However, be cautious of individuals who make promises or ask you for money in return for their services. In the event of a missing child, genuine assistance shouldn’t cost money. We work with people we have thoroughly vetted and know who is legitimate and who is not. We do not work with anyone we do not personally investigate.

 

Members of the Public

In the event of a missing child, the searching family may come into contact or be approached by members of the public who wish to help. The majority of these people will be sincere, well-meaning and well-adjusted individuals. However, some members of the public may present a challenge for the searching family by displaying obsessive behavour, mental health issues, or a need to share their own experiences and gain attention for their own situation. It is important that you or a searching family member exercise caution with these individuals and inform law enforcement of anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable.

 

1 Eric H. Holder, Laurie O. Robinson, Jeff Slowikowski, When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, (Washington, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 4th Edition, May 2010), 10-11.

 

Long-Term Search

While it may be difficult to think about, you need to prepare for the possibility that the search for your missing child could take a long time. As a parent you will never give up searching for your child but you need to ensure that you are not searching alone. IPA.org and other grassroots missing children services organizations will support you in your ongoing search efforts.

 

Continue to Promote Awareness

The longer the parental child abduction incident lasts, the greater role media and advocacy can play. You must be your child’s champion. There are a number of ways you can do this, including press releases, editorials, film specials, or engaging politicians and celebrities. However, it is always important that you consult with law enforcement and an IPA.org caseworker or a reputable missing children services organization before formulating awareness plans. They may have some ideas, plans, or cautions for you.


It is very important that you continue to advocate for the search. Building a strong relationship with police is key, and working cooperatively with missing children services organizations will also help keep the search alive. At this point, the efforts to create awareness of your case can be expanded. Other mediums can be considered, like social networking sites that can send out your message to a broader and more diverse audience.

 

Stay Positive

The odds are that someone, somewhere knows something that will help locate your child. Your child’s story must continue to be told in an effort to bring that person forward. Building good allies will be vital to remaining positive and motivated.

 

Take Care of Yourself

In order to be the best resource possible for your child, you need to be well. You need to get rest and take good care. When you have a child who has been missing for a long time you may need to re-arrange your life in such a way that parts of your day or week are dedicated to the search, but other parts are not. Remember, you want your child to have a healthy parent to come home to. If you have other children, you need to care for them, while showing them that you are continuing the search.

 

Seek Support

Seek ongoing support for yourself and your family. While family and friends can be great sources of strength and support, you may also benefit from speaking with a counselor that understands the unique issues faced by families in your position. You may also want to connect with other families that have experienced the devastation of a missing we can help connect you.

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