Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

What is parental kidnapping?

When parents are going through a crisis, one parent often fears that the other will simply run away with the children.  This does happen.  The hard thing to understand is that it may be perfectly legal.


When two parents have a child, they each have equal rights to raise the child, unless a court has entered an order which spells out their rights specifically.  This means that they may both decide on how to raise the child.  One parent does not have the legal right to overrule the other.  If a petition is filed and the court gets involved, then the judge may make decisions about the child. But if there is no court case or court order, and If one parent decides to take the children to Wyoming, there may be nothing that the other parent can do to prevent it. 

Parental kidnapping only exists when there is a valid order of court regarding child custody, and one parent breaks the rules in that order.  For example, a child custody order will generally spell out exactly where the child will be on each day of the week.  If the child is supposed to be with the mother, and the father takes the child away in violation of that order, then he may be guilty of parental kidnapping.

If the mother wants the children to stay home and the father wants to bring them to Wyoming, however, then that is probably just a disagreement, not a crime.  What can she do?  The answer is that she can seek a custody order from the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.  This is done by filing a petition with the Court Services Unit of the local Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. 

Once the petition is filed, the court will have the power to enter orders regarding the children.  The father in our case could be ordered to bring the children back to mother or at least to bring them to court.  Once the court assumes jurisdiction over the children, the situation is much more controlled, because the court will make the parents communicate with each other, and forbid erratic behavior like sudden moves to other states. If a parent disobeys an order of the court, he can be sanctioned or put in jail.  He can even lose custody if he refuses to obey the court’s orders.

When things start to deteriorate between two parents, a court order can be a great thing to have.  It allows the children to live with stability.  In addition, it allows parents to live without the fear that the other parent will run away with the children.  While anyone can file a custody petition, if there is a trial, then each parent will be expected to try the case according to the law, even though they are not lawyers.  This means that they may have to understand, hearsay, subpoenas and other legal matters even though they did not go to law school.  If the other parent appears with an attorney, it will be very difficult to win.