What is Parental Kidnapping?

A mother hugs her child as she drops him off at school

Although the idea of kidnapping is typically only employed when a stranger illegally removes your child from your custody without your consent, even a parent may also be deemed to have kidnapped a child if they have interfered with custody of another parent and removed the child from the jurisdiction without proper consent. Florida statute strictly regulates parental kidnapping and wants to ensure a child is able to retain a healthy and stable relationship with both parents. Further, federal statute also protects the parent child relationship through enactment of the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act. If your former partner has taken your child and refuses to return them to your custody, contact your Florida Child Custody Attorney immediately to assist in the safe return of your child.

Parental kidnapping can occur at any time, including when you are married to the other parent of your child, when a custody agreement is in place, or when you are currently litigating a custody dispute to determine a parenting plan. Therefore, there are no timelines as to when a parental kidnapping may occur and in fact, the only requirement to deem a kidnapping as parental is to that the kidnapper is in fact a legal parent of the child, and they intentionally removed the child from the other individual who retains parental rights to that child.

Statutorily, parental kidnapping may occur in two ways. A parent may personally take the child, or a parent may ask or encourage another individual to take the child for them. In Florida, under statute 787.03, “Whoever, without lawful authority, knowingly or recklessly takes or entices, or aids, abets, hires, or otherwise procures another to take or entice, any minor or any incompetent person from the custody of the minor’s or incompetent person’s parent, his or her guardian, a public agency having the lawful charge of the minor or incompetent person, or any other lawful custodian commits the offense of interference with custody and commits a felony of the third degree.” Further, a parent may engage in parental kidnapping if “any parent of the minor or incompetent person, whether natural or adoptive, stepparent, legal guardian, or relative of the minor or incompetent person who has custody thereof and who takes, detains, conceals, or entices away that minor or incompetent person within or without the state with malicious intent to deprive another person of his or her right to custody of the minor or incompetent person commits a felony of the third degree.” The most common parental kidnapping situations that occur are cases involving a parent fleeing an abusive spouse, or a parent who intentionally removes the child from the state against court order or parent approval, typically done during an ongoing custody action.

There are only three viable defenses to such willful action. If a parent reasonably believed removing the child was necessary to protect the child from danger; if the parent was a victim of domestic violence or had reasonable belief that they were to become a victim of said violence and removal of the child was necessary to prevent the child to be exposed to such action and danger; or the child instigated the action of removal, and the parent reasonably relied on the actions of the minor. If a parent wishes to use the defense of imminent danger or domestic violence, they must take action and report, in the county of residence of the child, the name and contact information of the parent removing the child as well as reason for why the child was taken. The kidnapping parent must then seek a custody action in the courts.

If your child has been kidnapped by their other parent, or you are fearful this may occur, contact your Florida Child Custody Attorney. We will take action in the court immediately and file an Emergency Motion and the court can order the return of the child from any state under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, or from any country governed by the Hague Convention. Further, if your custody dispute is ongoing, your Florida Child Custody Attorney could ask the court to implement proper preemptive measures. For instance, under Florida statute 61.45, the court may require a parent to surrender the passports of the child, order the parent not to remove the child from the state or country without notarized permission, order the parent not to take the child to a country who has not ratified the Hauge Convention, or order the parent to post a bond sufficient to serve as a financial deterrent to abduction. Contact your Florida Child Custody Attorney immediately to discuss your options and to ensure the proper return of your child, or to take preemptive measures to ensure your children remain in the jurisdiction.

Speaking to an attorney at our Florida office is free of charge, and we accept calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 850-307-5211 or complete an online contact form to get in touch with a member of our team today.

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