Parental Abduction: How Common Is It?

You might be surprised to learn how often parental abduction occurs during a divorce. Thousands of children are abducted by their parents or another family member each year. In fact, 3 out of every 1,000 children will be abducted by a family member each year.

Before we get to the facts of parental abduction, we want to explain the difference between abduction and kidnapping. Abduction is when a child is persuaded or forcefully removed from the home. Kidnapping is when the abduction is accompanied by a ransom for money or other gains.

Parental Abduction Statistics

Parental abduction chart

Common Reasons Parental Abduction Occurs

While parental abduction typically occurs because one of the parents is upset about the custody situation, there are other reasons a parent may choose to abduct a child:

  • They are upset about a recent custody decision in court
  • They are being denied access to the child due to unpaid child support
  • They/the child are a victim of abuse, and they are trying to protect them
  • They are angry at their co-parent for ending the relationship
  • They disagree with their co-parent’s current lifestyle
  • They want to take the child to another country

What To Do If Your Child Has Been Abducted

If your child has been abducted by your co-parent, the first step is to call your local law enforcement agency. You should also contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at or 800-843-5678. If you are concerned that your co-parent may try to leave the country with the child, contact the federal Office of Children’s Issues at 888-407-4747 as well as your local law enforcement agency. Keep your attorney up-to-date on all the steps you take along the way.

Ways to Prevent Parental Abduction

Some things you can do to prevent your co-parent from abducting your child and be prepared if it does happen, include:

  • Have contact information on hand for your co-parent’s relatives, friends, and business associates.
  • Keep important information about your co-parent in a safe place, including their Social Security number, bank information, driver’s license number, license plate number, vehicle description, passport number (if applicable), and a physical description, along with a recent photograph.
  • Keep a current physical description of your child and a recent, front-facing photograph. Recording a video of your child at least once every six months is also a good idea.
  • Take your child to the local police station to get fingerprinted.
  • Teach younger children how to use the telephone, including how to make collect phone calls. Get older children their own cell phone, but also teach them how to make phone calls without a cell phone. Make sure they know to call you immediately if anything happens to make them uncomfortable when they’re with your co-parent.
  • In extreme cases, hire a private investigator to watch your co-parent’s visitations. Make sure the investigator is familiar with these types of cases.

Travel Out of the Country

If your child is a dual citizen, there are some special concerns you will need to keep in mind. You can request that another country not grant your child a passport, although there are no guarantees they will grant your request. You can make this request even if your child is only a US citizen.

For a US passport to be issued for a child under the age of 16, both parents need to be present when applying for the passport, or the parent who is unable to be present must sign and have notarized the DS-3053 form, also referred to as a “Statement of Consent”.

If you are worried that your co-parent may try to apply for a new passport for your child, you can register with the Department of State Children’s Passport Insurance Alert Program to be notified if they apply for a new or renewal passport. This can be done online at If there is a pressing concern about an abduction taking place, contact the Department of State at 888-407-4747 and ask to speak with a prevention officer.

Have more questions about child custody and co-parenting? Check out these resources.

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