The Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the American Bar Association, including its Young Lawyers Division, recommend taking the following steps as a guide for lawyers and clients handling these cases after the child has been snatched by a parent.
- Hire an aggressive family law attorney, preferably one with experience in parental-kidnapping situations.
- If you have not already filed for divorce, DO SO IMMEDIATELY. File for divorce and full custody of the children.
- Assemble your documentation of court decrees and custody orders, if any.
- If you do not have custody, use the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, which established rules help courts determine jurisdiction, to petition for custody in the local family court.
- Ask local police to issue a warrant for the arrest of the kidnapping parent.
- Insist that a missing person’s report be posted immediately on National Crime Information Center and Interpol computers. Many local police departments will mistakenly tell parents that they need to see a final custody order before issuing a missing child report or that a waiting period is required, but this is no longer true. Such delays are prohibited by the National Child Search Assistance Act (P.L. 101-647; 42 U.S.C. 5779, 5780), which requires law enforcement to immediately enter a missing child report into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
- Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE LOST or 703-235-3900. The Web address of its international branch is www.icmec.co.uk. The center maintains a missing children’s data base and publishes a booklet on preventing and reacting to abduction.
- Contact the local FBI office. If the FBI tells you that you first need a state warrant, point out that the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act ended that requirement.
- Ask the state prosecutor or district attorney to request the local U.S. attorney’s to issue a federal Unauthorized Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) arrest warrant. The Federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980 provides for the issuance of this warrant.
Once you have the UFAP warrant, ask the FBI to assist in the investigation and to use the services of the federal Parent Locator Service.
- Investigate possible civil remedies and consider the viability of a tort suit against the kidnapper, including anyone who may have assisted in the abduction.
- Use whatever information you have about the abducting parent in your investigation, such as names of family members or friends who may know of his or her whereabouts.
- If you suspect an international kidnapping, after you have the UFAP warrant, ask the FBI to request the U.S. Attorney’s office to have the passport of the kidnapping parent revoked.
- Call the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues (1-202-736-7000), and request the booklet, "International Parental Child Abduction". The booklet outlines what you should do and what the office can do for you.
- If you have to to litigate the matter in a foreign country, contact the State Department’s office of the Overseas Citzens’ Services of the Bureau of Consular Affairs for a list of attorneys available for such cases.