What Is Parental Kidnapping?

The term “child abduction” may conjure images of a stranger snatching a child from their home or playground. But a significant number of these incidents involve a person very familiar to the child: their own parent. This phenomenon is known as parental kidnapping.

The definition of parental kidnapping

Parental kidnapping, also known as parental abduction, is the act of one parent taking, retaining, or hiding a child in violation of the rights of the child's other parent or family member. This act can be carried out by the mother or the father and is typically fueled by disputes over child custody, a legal custody order, or visitation rights.

This act is far from a harmless expression of parental love and concern. It is a grave issue that not only violates the law but also inflicts considerable emotional trauma on the child and the left-behind parent. It disrupts the child's sense of stability, security, and connection with both parents, leaving lasting psychological scars.

In the context of divorce, parental kidnapping often surfaces as an ugly manifestation of marital discord between the couple. One parent might resort to this extreme measure out of fear of losing custody, to exert control, or as an act of revenge against the other parent.

In child custody disputes, parental kidnapping typically arises when one parent is dissatisfied with a custody arrangement or fears losing access to their child. This dissatisfaction can drive a parent to take matters into their own hands, leading to unlawful actions such as kidnapping. It's crucial to note that even if a parent has custody rights, they cannot violate the other parent's visitation rights or refuse to return the child after their allotted visitation time. Doing so could be considered parental kidnapping.

There's no way to guarantee parental kidnapping won't occur. However, a well-structured custody agreement can help prevent it. The agreement should be specific, detailing visitation rights, shared holidays, and any restrictions on travel. It's advisable to involve a family law attorney in drafting this agreement to make sure it is legally sound and enforceable.

If you suspect parental kidnapping, immediately contact local law enforcement, and provide all necessary details. You may also need to involve a family law attorney to navigate the legal complexities.

Various forms of parental kidnapping

Parental kidnapping can take many forms. Duration and distance may vary. 


Short-term parental kidnapping typically lasts for a few hours. For instance, a father who has visitation rights might pick up his child from school and fail to return them at the agreed-upon time, keeping the child for extra hours without the other parent's consent.

 Another example could be a mother who, in violation of a court order, holds onto her child longer than her allotted custody time, refusing to hand over the child to the father.


Long-term parental kidnapping occurs when a parent keeps a child away from the other parent for several days or longer. An example could be a mother who, after being granted only visitation rights, decides to take the child on a “'vacation” and doesn't return for weeks. Another example: A father dissatisfied with a custody decision might disappear with the child for months, cutting off all communication with the other parent.

We understand the emotional turmoil involved in custody disputes. That's why we offer mediation services to help resolve these disputes amicably and effectively, minimizing the potential harm to your children. Check out our free Child Custody Mediation Checklist.


In cases of short-distance parental kidnapping, the offending parent takes the child a relatively short distance away. This could involve a parent who, during their visitation time, takes the child to their own home when they're not supposed to, violating the custody agreement. 

Another scenario might involve a father who, against the stipulations of the custody arrangement, takes his child to a nearby relative's house without the mother's consent.


Long-distance parental kidnapping involves crossing city, state, or even international borders. Consider a mother who, not content with her custody arrangement, decides to move to another state with her child without informing the father or obtaining legal permission. 

Another example could involve a father who takes his child overseas, far away from the custodial parent, in an attempt to prevent the other parent from having access to the child.

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What is the punishment for parental kidnapping?

The punishment for breaking parental kidnapping laws varies by state, reflecting the diverse legal landscapes across the United States. To get an idea of what criminal charges and consequences might look like, let's explore how this crime is treated in Florida, New York, and Colorado.

  • In Florida, parental kidnapping is generally considered a first-degree felony. This charge can lead to a prison sentence of up to life and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • New York law defines parental kidnapping under the broader term of “custodial interference.” A parent who commits this crime can be charged with a non-violent felony, punishable by up to four years in jail.
  • In Colorado, parental kidnapping can be charged as a felony, punishable by one to three years of jail time and a fine between $1,000 and $100,000.

These examples illustrate the gravity of the crime and the severe parental kidnapping charges attached to it. Navigating these complex legal issues can be overwhelming, which is why professional legal advice guidance is essential.

At Hello Divorce, we are experts in divorce law, offering comprehensive online divorce plans to meet your unique needs as well as an array of other services that may help you deal with co-parenting, custody issues, and more. Our aim is to make the divorce process more accessible, affordable, and less stressful. 

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Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.