Parental child abductions are a major concern in contentious child-custody cases. They're also more common than you might think.
More than 200,000 children are kidnapped by a relative each year, usually by a parent, according to the Polly Klaas Foundation. That's more than 75% of all missing-children cases in the United States.
A recent case in California shows the extremes that a parent can go to in an alleged child abduction: Christopher Maffei, 43, allegedly took his 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter from their grandmother's house, then stole a boat and sailed away with them. The Coast Guard took Maffei and his children into custody off the coast of Monterey, CBS News reports.
Maffei's alleged parental child abduction took place as the mother of his children was in court to get a restraining order against him. He now faces charges of kidnapping, child endangerment, and parental abduction, according to CBS.
Courts, law-enforcement agencies, and parents themselves can play a role in preventing parental abductions, the Polly Klaas Foundation suggests. Here are some general tips:
Include anti-abduction measures in your child custody order. These can include requirements for supervised visitation so the children are never left alone with the other parent, or even a requirement for both parents to post bonds. Court orders can also specifically call for police involvement in case the other parent tries to interfere with the custody order, and can authorize law-enforcement agents to recover an abducted child. It may also be a good idea to file a copy of your court order in the other parent's state, and to inform your child's school or daycare about the order.
Consider imposing travel restrictions. A child custody order can specify that the children cannot leave the county, the state, or the country without the other parent's permission. If you're concerned about a potential international abduction, notify the State Department to restrict your child's passport, and include terms of the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction in your court order. Not all countries have signed on to the Hague Convention, however.
Keep identifying information for your children and the other parent. In a worst-case scenario, you'll want to be prepared to give law enforcement as much descriptive detail about your missing child and the abducting parent. The Klaas Foundation recommends taking new color photos at least every six months. You may also want to keep track of the other parent's license plate numbers and bank account information, if possible.