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Parental kidnapping: Preparing for the worst

During the early days of a separation when a fragile marriage finally shatters, emotions can run especially high. That's when some parents react badly or out of character-- especially if young children are involved.

That's also when parental or familial abductions often occur.

It's important to be prepared in case your spouse (or another family member, like a grandparent, aunt or uncle) abducts the children during any emotional point in the divorce:

  • Be particularly watchful at "trigger points" for action, like the actual filing of divorce papers or court dates.
  • Talk to your children and make certain that they understand that you would never leave them or give them away -- even if they are told that by someone they normally trust.
  • Teach your kids your phone number and the phone number of at least one close relative or friend. Have them practice dialing on various types of phones. Don't assume they know how to work a cellphone or push phone.
  • Teach your children how to call 911 if they have been separated from you for an unusually long period of time without a good explanation or when they know they should have been returned to you.
  • Keep as much information on any potential abductors as possible, including things like their Social Security numbers, where they bank and the names and addresses of significant relatives or friends. Try to obtain as much of this information as you can in a discreet way, so you don't alert the potential abductor.
  • Take regular photos of your children and make sure that you know their heights, weights, eye colors and any identifying marks or scars they may have.
  • You can get your children's fingerprints taken -- usually through the local police station. That could be important if an abductor finds a way to change their outward appearance.

Above all, make sure that you move to get a custody order in place as quickly as possible. Even a temporary custody order can help you get a child returned from another state if a parent flees to a state with different custody rules. Some states don't view a parent's removal of a child from their home state as an abduction unless a custody order is in place.

An attorney can provide you with more information about child custody issues.

Source:, "Just In Case...Family Separation," accessed Aug. 18, 2017

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