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Things to Do to If You Think Your Child Is Missing or May Have Been Kidnapped

  1. Call the local police and file a missing person report. If possible, demonstrate that you have an order of legal custody, care and control, and sole physical possession. Advise your belief that your child has been kidnapped and ask for help.

  2. Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) for assistance. It offers assistance in the search for your child.

  3. Get out the documents referenced in SECTION I.

  4. Determine if the kidnapping constitutes a violation of a criminal statute where you live. If so, determine whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. Then consider if you want to seek a criminal complaint. (1)

  5. If you go forward with the criminal process, request that an arrest warrant be issued for the kidnapping parent and request the Federal Government to issue a warrant for Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP). (2)

  6. The Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act mandates that parental kidnapping be addressed through the Fugitive Felon Act, Title 18, USC, Section 1073, which in turn is a stepping stone in the process of seeking a UFAP warrant. (3)
  7. Another possible resource for assistance is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

    1. Consider whether you can seek the assistance of the FBI.

    2. Know that if the FBI obtains a UFAP warrant, it will be looking for the kidnapping parent--not the kidnapped child. Obviously, the FBI is sensitive enough to understand that location of the child is also of crucial importance. To the extent the circumstances permit, the FBI will time the arrest to coincide with the presence of the kidnapped child. But there can be situations where the kidnapping parent is located and arrested by the FBI and the kidnapped child's location will not be determined. At that point, the FBI is not authorized to continue its investigation because the UFAP warrant has been executed by the arrest of the kidnapping parent.

  8. Try to obtain information through the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS). (4)

  9. Request that your child's name and description and your spouse's name, description, social security number, and driver's license number be put into the missing persons section of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer, per the Missing Children's Act of 1982, Title 28, USC Section 534(a) and the Crime Control Act of 1990 (also known as the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990). (5) There is no need to file criminal charges in order to make use of this assistance.

  10. Request your local police to request the international criminal police organization, INTERPOL, to conduct a search in the country where you think your child has been taken. (6)

  11. Call the Office of Citizens Consular Services, U.S. Department of State, at (202) 736-7000 to request a welfare and whereabouts search for your American citizen child missing abroad.

  12. If your child has been taken to another country, obtain and complete a form requesting the U.S. Central Authority (i.e., the State Department) to fulfill its obligations under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to assist in obtaining an Order of Return--if the other country also has adopted this Hague Convention.

  13. Double check with the U.S. Central Authority to be sure that it has issued a request for an Order of Return.

  14. Contact the Central Authority in the other country to advise them to be on the lookout for the request for return coming to them from the U.S. Central Authority. By facsimile or by express delivery, you can provide the other country with a copy of what you filed with the U.S. Central Authority.

  15. If you think you know the state or jurisdiction to which your spouse has gone,

    1. Immediately contact a lawyer in that state or jurisdiction and ask him or her to prepare a complaint seeking a Writ of Habeas Corpus, which will give the police or deputy sheriff the right to take possession of your child and immediately bring your child to court.

    2. In the complaint, you also can ask for a Writ of Ne Exeat Regno, asking that the police or deputy sheriff be permitted to take possession of your spouse in the event that your child is not present when the authorities go to try to effect the Writ of Habeas Corpus.

    3. The complaint should seek an immediate Order of Return without the need for the court to hold an evidentiary hearing or exercise plenary jurisdiction.

  16. Legal service expenses.

    1. Unless you already have hired a lawyer, you must be prepared to pay a sizable retainer to get an expert in this kind of case to take your case. This can range from $2,500 to more than $25,000 depending on the circumstances and the expected difficulties.
    2. Some countries, such as England (but not the United States), provide for "free legal services" in this area of the law. The lawyer in the other country should be able to tell you if you might qualify for this public assistance and, if so, to provide you with the form needed to apply.

  17. Relationship with relatives and friends of your spouse.

    1. Try to establish and maintain contact with relatives and friends of your spouse.

    2. Always stay calm. Never express anger or threaten revenge. Stress your child's need for contact with both parents. Express sympathy and understanding for the acts of your spouse.

  18. Determine if your child's school or pediatrician has been asked to forward a copy of your child's records to another school or doctor. Also ask if your spouse has asked for copies of these records.

  19. Ask your local district attorney to request that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service put a mail cover on any addresses in the United States to which you think your spouse might write.

  20. Ask your local district attorney to subpoena documents or issue a search warrant for such things as credit card records, telephone bills, and bank records, or you can start a civil action and subpoena those records into a deposition.
  21. Consider legal action against third parties in order to obtain information. For example, your spouse's parents or siblings may have aided in the kidnapping or in hiding your child's whereabouts. If they know of the court order granting you custody, they may be held in contempt or you might sue them in a civil action for having intentionally or negligently inflicted emotional distress. Once these people have their own assets or liberty at stake, they may, as part of a settlement, divulge the whereabouts of your child.

  22. Frequently check at your local post office to see if your spouse has put in a change of address form for his or her mail or magazines.

  23. In the event you locate your child and your spouse expresses concerns about the safety of the child if placed into your custody, ask your spouse to pay for all three of you to return together to the place of habitual residence or ask the court to appoint a court-connected probation officer or family service officer to travel with you and your child back to the habitual residence. Also offer to obtain an order from a court in the habitual residence that will appoint a neutral person, such as a grandparent, aunt, or uncle, to take over the care and control of your child until some other court order is entered.


1. Carefully consider if you want to seek a felony warrant. If the kidnapping parent is in the United States, it may be worth all of the steps noted. If the kidnapping parent is not in the United States, then getting a felony warrant may be counterproductive. Why should a kidnapper return a child to a place where the kidnapper will lose custody and go to jail? In many cases if the child is in the country of the kidnapper's nationality and that country is not one that has ratified the Hague Abduction Convention, it may be better to agree to give the kidnapper sole legal and physical custody and to make sure there are no outstanding warrants. In that way the kidnapping parent might agree to return so that you get the child back.

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2. If the kidnapper does not have dual citizenship and is in a non-Hague Abduction Convention country, perhaps getting a federal felony warrant and an Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) warrant is a good thing. At that point, the U.S. State Department can revoke the kidnapper's passport, which in turn makes the kidnapper an undocumented alien and subject to deportation back to the United States.

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3. The requirements for getting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to begin a federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) investigation in parental kidnapping cases are supposed to be the same as for any other fugitive investigation. Those requirements are: (1) the existence of a state felony warrant; (2) probable cause [for the FBI] to believe that the fugitive has fled the jurisdiction of the wanting state; (3) the written request of an appropriate state authority for federal assistance; and (4) the assurance that the fugitive will be extradited to the jurisdiction where sought for prosecution for the state charge. After these requirements are met, the FBI then will seek authorization for the filing of a request for a federal UFAP warrant from the U.S. Attorney and will present the facts to a U.S. magistrate or judge.

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4. An authorized person can request the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) to search several data banks using the kidnapper's social security number. You must anticipate that the kidnapper will use a false social security number or a number belonging to someone else. But at some point the kidnapper may use his or her own social security number. So the search should be made periodically. An authorized person can be, but not limited to, a police officer, a prosecutor, a judge of a court that can make or enforce a child custody determination or any agent of such a court, or any other state official seeking to enforce a child custody order. An authorized person may contact the local Child Support Enforcement Office by getting the telephone number from the local directory.

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5. The Missing Children's Assistance Act of 1984, Title 42, USC, Section 5771, et seq. required establishment of a national resource center on missing children. Since 1984 the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has served as such.

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6. The Hague Conference on Private International Law has a Special Commission that reviews the ratification and implementation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. INTERPOL representatives have assured this Special Commission that it treats requests for information on children with the highest priority.