Updated: Feb 5
When we think of kidnappers, we imagine the strange man in a van with free candy or a puppy. In reality, 63% of all AMBER alerts were from family abduction cases in 2020. Summer is the most common season for kidnappings by a parent or family member (with most cases happening in August)
What is Parental Kidnapping in Florida?
The Florida Uniform Crime Reports define kidnapping or abduction as the " Unlawful seizure, transportation, and/or detention of a person against his/her will, or of a minor without the consent of his/her custodial parent (s) or legal guardian". In short, if you are not the custodial parent, you can kidnap your child.
Florida Statute 787.03 controls what is parental kidnapping. If there is no court order that can change who has custody, you can still kidnap your child! The charge is a 3rd-degree felony of Interference of Custody. It is very important to follow your parenting plan or custody agreement carefully to avoid any false claims against you.
Is There Anything to Reduce the Risk?
The National Center for Missing & Endangered Children (NCMEC) has listed several risk factors that could increase the risk of a family member abducting children:
● Has previously threatened to, or has kidnapped a child
● Has a history of domestic violence, child abuse, or is uncooperative.
● Has strong ties to a different state or country
● Is unemployed, can work anywhere, or is financially independent
● Has started planning such as quitting their job, buying tickets, selling their home, etc.
● Has a new passport or visa.
● Has ownership of the child(ren)'s birth certificates
● Has ownership of the child(ren)'s school or medical records
Even if they don't have all these factors, an abduction could still happen.
Florida Statute 61.45, which governs support and time-sharing, has a few provisions to help prevent parental kidnapping. If the court has enough evidence to suspect that a parent may violate the court-ordered parenting plan, it may:
● Require a parent to have written notarized permission, or another court order, to take the child out of the state or country.
● Require the parent to surrender the child's passport
● Put the child's name in the Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program
● An order that the parent can not apply for a replacement passport for the child
● Order various travel restrictions for traveling with the child
What Happens if My Child is Kidnapped?
The old wives' tale that you can't report someone missing until they are gone for 24 hours is a myth. Federal law prohibits law enforcement from having a waiting period to file a missing child report. If your child(ren) 17 and under have been taken by the non-custodial parent, you should:
1. Immediately inform law enforcement and have your child entered into the Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC)
2. Get any photos and information of your children and the non-custodial parent. (ex. heights, weights, car type or color)
3. Have a copy of your custody decree ready for law enforcement.
4. Consider filing charges, like the Interference with Custody charge mentioned earlier
5. Once law enforcement has filed a missing person case, call the Missing and Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse (MEPIC) at 1-888-356-4774
6. Keep Law Enforcement updated on your case, such as any communications you have had with the non-custodial parent or family member.
7. If you found your child(ren) let law enforcement know so they can help recover them.
8. Take actions to prevent kidnapping from happening again
If you are having difficulties getting law enforcement to take a report or enter a report into the NCIC, you can contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
If you are nervous that an abduction might happen you can file for an Emergency Motion and the court can order your child's return from any state under the Uniform Child Custody Act or from any country governed by the Hague Convention.
What Happens if I'm Accused of Parental Kidnapping?
There are a few defenses against a charge of Interfering with Custodial Rights:
● If you believed that taking your child was necessary to protect your child from harm.
● If you are a victim of domestic violence and believed that your child would become a victim of domestic violence.
● Or the child started the removal and you reasonably relied on them.
If you need to move more than 50 miles with your child, make sure you change your existing custody order. The Florida Relocation Statute will apply with moves that far, even if the other parent agrees.
Parental Kidnapping is a very real thing that happens to thousands of families every year. 96% of these abductions resolve with the child safe at home but preparing is the best defense.
Crafting a parenting plan can be difficult to navigate on your own. Contact the professionals at TriDialogue at firstname.lastname@example.org.