International Parental Kidnappings

When a child is abducted, the parent who is left behind faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It has been estimated that half the threats of parental abductions result in abductions. According to an online study, the term ‘parental kidnapping’ means to retain and conceal a child by a parent, or other family member, in obstruction of custody rights and visitation rights of another parent or family member. Often times the abducting parent moves from one state to another, impending intervention by child protective services.

Finding the missing child or children can be a long and terrifying process, but what happens when the abducting parent flees to another country? What do you do if the abducting parent goes into hiding, moving beyond the jurisdiction of the governing law?

The laws vary from country to country, and typically a foreign child custody order is not recognized. Fortunately, international treaties have been drafted to help insure the quick return of children who have been abducted from their country of habitual residence. These treaties seek to protect children internationally from the negative effects of their wrongful removal or retention. It is meant to establish procedures to ensure the child’s prompt return to the State of their habitual residence. The predominant goal is to preserve whatever child custody arrangement pre‐existed, thus, putting a halt to the wrongful removal or retention of a child and deterring a parent from crossing international boundaries in search of a more sympathetic court.

But is it really that simple? And where do you begin?

Tim McWhirter, private investigator, is all too familiar with international parental abductions. He is seasoned in international child recovery and is aware of the many difficulties that lie ahead in this type of problem. Tim understands that for parents whose children are taken to or retained in foreign countries, these hardships can be overwhelming. Given the complex nature of international abductions, a swift and informed response can prove extremely difficult. Unfamiliar languages and laws, aggravated by the vast psychological and physical distance of the separation, can exasperate recovery efforts.

Tim says there are two common scenarios: one involves families where both mother and father are U.S. citizens and the non‐custodial parent abducts the child and flees the country in an attempt to hide the child from the legal guardian.

The second scenario Tim sees, is an increase in parental abductions where one of the parents is native to another country. Tim says this has become more common because of the worlds new geographic mobility and the escalation of international marriages. The ability to change community and lifestyle quickly aids the non‐custodial parent in returning to their country of origin, and illegally taking their child or children with them.

Tim assures that it is not as simple as flying into a foreign country, showing the officials the child’s legal custody papers and flying the child back home. It can be a long and painful process. Taking proper precautions and having someone who knows how to handle these types of situations is key.

Tim begins by quietly confirming the child’s exact location and making sure the child is safe. He then tackles the legal aspects of the case and begins work with local authorities. “Unfortunately, local authorities don’t always want to get involved”, Tim says, “having someone by your side who knows the routine can help speed the process along.” People like Tim, who are experienced in these situations, understand how to enlist the help necessary to rescue a child quickly and more efficiently.

“It’s always dangerous when a child is involved”, Tim says. He urges parents who think they may have reason to worry that a spouse or family member may try and abduct their child, to follow these simple steps:

  1. Always keep updated information about your child readily available, including: current photos, fingerprints, identifiers such as eyeglasses, braces, scars, height, weight, etc.
  2. Custodial parent should always have a current list of the potential abductors (and relatives) with their addresses, telephone numbers, social security or citizen identification numbers, birth dates, and places of birth.
  3. Notify schools, daycare, and babysitters of the situation and keep a certified copy of your custody decree on file at your child’s school. Inform them of the risk of abduction by the non‐custodial parent and instruct them not to allow your child to leave the grounds with anyone except you.
  4. Apply for a passport for your child and keep it in a safe deposit box. Only one passport may be issued per person and the child cannot be taken out of the country without it.
  5. Teach your child how to use the phone to call the police; teach them how to call you collect as well.

If you know your child has already been taken out of the country, contact authorities and hire someone who has experience in child recovery. Every child that Tim has been hired to retrieve, he has found and returned safely home.

New international treaties and acts offer parents tools for recovering a child who is the victim of an international child abduction; while these options for recovering an abducted child are useful, they are not a guarantee. Parents must educate themselves on the dangers and be aware that preventing a parental kidnapping is an ongoing effort. Staying prepared is critical to protecting your child.

“Hopefully, an abduction will not be the result when parents are in conflict. International child abductions are a nightmare, not only for the parent, but for the children as well,” Tim says. “But, I encourage parents not to forget that there are well‐trained people who can help.”

For more information or to speak with Tim directly, please contact:

Tim McWhirter

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