Pressing Criminal Charges
International parental child abduction is crime in every State and the District of Columbia under specified circumstances. International
parental child abduction is also a federal crime under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA).
Your Decision to Use Criminal Charges
Your decision about whether to pursue criminal charges against the taking parent is a difficult one that should be made through
consultation with your legal representative and in consideration of its potential impact on other aspects of your efforts
to secure your child’s return. The Office of Children’s Issues can provide information about U.S. laws that make parental
abduction a crime, resources for how to pursue a criminal warrant, and observations about some of the potential consequences
of such an action based on knowledge of the laws and/or practices in the country to which your child has been abducted. We
cannot, however, recommend a specific course of action or guarantee a specific outcome.
Depending on the circumstances, criminal charges filed against the taking parent can either help or hinder the successful
return of your child. Therefore, it is important to weigh the pros and cons carefully and to obtain legal advice from an attorney
before making the decision that you believe is best for your child. The purpose of a criminal warrant is to authorize law
enforcement officials to apprehend and present the taking parent for prosecution. Your child is not subject to the warrant,
which means that successful apprehension of the taking parent will not necessarily result in the return of your child. It
can, however, serve as a negotiation tool since the taking parent may agree to voluntarily return the child in exchange for
leniency or dropped charges.
The existence of criminal charges may also negatively impact a foreign court’s decision about whether to order or deny your
child’s return under the Hague Abduction Convention. Although the Hague Abduction Convention pertains to children, not to
their taking parents, in practice many judges are reluctant to order a return if the taking parent cannot accompany the child
back to the United States. If the judge hearing the Hague Abduction Convention case is aware the taking parent faces arrest
upon arrival, the judge may deny the return or order it only if the criminal charges are dropped. While you may request withdrawal
of criminal charges against the taking parent, only the entity which issued the charges and/or a judge has the authority do
so and may not agree to your request.
You will need to consider your goals and the implications criminal charges may have for you and your child. The prosecutor,
the laws of the country where your child is located, and the taking parent’s behavior will all have an effect on how successful
criminal charges are in securing your child’s return. Understanding these considerations may help you predict whether criminal
charges can be an effective option for you and your child.
Pros and Cons of Pressing Criminal Charges:
- The process of filing criminal charges may help you locate your child.
- A criminal charge will potentially facilitate cooperation from foreign law enforcement authorities by authorizing issuance
of an INTERPOL red notice.
- If the taking parent is a U.S. Citizen, criminal warrants can serve as justification to revoke his ir her passport, thus limiting
subsequent international travel and potentially creating obstacles for his or her ability to remain legally in a foreign country.
- Public awareness of the successful prosecution of a taking parent may deter other from abducting their children.
- An outstanding criminal warrant may deter a voluntary or negotiated return if a taking parent believes that he or she may
be arrested whey they return to the United States.
- Criminal charges may adversely affect Hague return proceedings. Some judges nay refuse to order a child’s return if there
is a warrant for the taking parent's arrest.
- Criminal charges may encourage a taking parent to go deeper into hiding to avoid arrest. This is especially true when the
taking parent has family or deep ties in the community.
- The arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of the taking parent could be emotionally damaging for the child.
- The goals of the criminal justice system to arrest a taking parent may be in conflict with your wishes, and once initiated,
the prosecutor has control of any and all criminal proceedings. How these proceedings develop will be out of your hands.
Begin by Contacting Law Enforcement
When your child is missing you should immediately report the abduction to law enforcement. Law Enforcement should respond
immediately, and enter your child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person Database. The initial response from law enforcement could determine whether or not a child is quickly and safely recovered.
Entering your child into NCIC does not automatically initiate criminal proceedings against the taking parent. It is best to
consult with an attorney before you decide to pursue criminal charges. Depending on your State laws, law enforcement may require
that you have a custody order, before seeking criminal warrants.
HELPFUL HINT: We recommend you keep a record of all of your correspondence with all parties you interact with, including law enforcement.
Note as well all the names of the people you speak to, the dates and times of the conversation, and the information that was
- Your Local Police: Most international abductions are first reported to your local police. If they pursue warrants, your local police (in coordination
with the local prosecutor) may seek issuance of a warrant based on your state's criminal parental kidnapping laws. You may
also want to arrange to meet with your local prosecutor's office to understand law enforcement's considerations for moving
forward, and to advocate for your cases.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): You may also report your case directly to the FBI at the field office nearest your home. If possible, you should consider
meeting with the Assistant U.S. Attorney to discuss the possibility of pursuing federal criminal charges against the taking
parent. The FBI may decide to treat the abduction as a felony under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act. Visit
www.fbi.gov for more information.
HELPFUL HINT: Many law enforcement professionals have limited experience with parental child abduction cases and specifically, with procedures
in international parental abduction cases. The Office of Children's Issues can provide resources and communicate with law
enforcement officials about the federal laws that will authorize them to assist
- Coordinated Effort: Successful resolution of international parental child abduction cases through use of criminal charges required a coordinated
effort among federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities.In some cases, U.S. law enforcement will also enlist the
help of INTERPOL and foreign law enforcement to carry out an investigation.
- Foreign Police, Customs, and Laws: Be aware that parental abduction is not a crime in most countries, and this can hinder efforts to prosecute a taking parent.
Other factors that may obstruct the process are local customs as they relate to religion, gender, nationality, and other
- Foreign Criminal Charges: You should always consult an attorney in the foreign country if you intend to pursue foreign criminal charges against the
taking parent. In some countries, you may be able to pursue the prosecution of the taking parent by the authorities of the
country where the child is found. In many countries, citizens can be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad if the act is
a criminal offense under local law; however, parental abduction is rarely considered a crime outside of the United States.
Settling out of Court | Using the Hague Abduction Convention | Using a Foreign Country's Civil Justice System | Pressing Criminal Charges | Applying Country Specific Information
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