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Domestic Family Abductions

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® intakes reports about missing children, including children who have been abducted, wrongfully retained or concealed by a parent or family member within the U.S.

For more information about the services NCMEC can provide to searching families and law enforcement regarding cases of domestic family abduction visit the Missing Children section.

Federal laws

  • Federal law (42 U.S.C. § 5772) defines a "missing child" as "any individual less than 18 years of age whose whereabouts are unknown to such individual's legal custodian."
  • Regardless of the reason why a child goes missing, federal law requires law enforcement agencies to respond in a specific way. Federal law prohibits law enforcement agencies from establishing or maintaining a waiting period before accepting a missing child report (42 U.S.C. § 5780). Federal law also requires law enforcement agencies to enter the missing child's information into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database and state law enforcement system database within two hours of receiving a missing child report (42 U.S.C. § 5780).
  • The Fugitive Felon Act (18 U.S.C. § 1073) authorizes federal authorities to assist with the apprehension of state law fugitives, including those charged with parental kidnapping, through the issuance of a federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) warrant, when the fugitive crosses state lines.

State laws

Family abduction is recognized as a crime in every state, although individual state criminal laws vary widely. Under state law family abduction is described by a variety of names including custodial interference, custody deprivation, child stealing and parental kidnapping.

The basic elements in the state crime of family abduction are typically the wrongful taking or retention of a child in violation of a court order or other law, without a valid defense to make the conduct legal. For a comprehensive summary of state criminal custodial interference laws, refer to a compilation of "Parental Kidnapping Statutes" located on the website of the National District Attorneys Association.

  • The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) has now been adopted as state law in nearly every state and territory in the U.S. The UCCJEA provides clearer standards for the exercise of jurisdiction over child custody cases among the states and provides a specific, effective mechanism for enforcement of out-of-state custody orders, including custody orders from another country.
  • The Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA) was introduced in 2006 to help courts identify children at risk of domestic and international abduction and provide numerous prevention measures a court can incorporate into a custody order. More than 10 states have adopted UCAPA as state law and several other states have pending UCAPA legislation or enacted their own abduction prevention statutes.

For a comprehensive summary of state statutes and case law related to family abductions, abduction prevention and missing children see NCMEC's guidebook titled Family Abduction: Prevention and Response and refer specifically to the state-by-state legal appendix.

Other resources

For additional information about issues relating to domestic family abductions, you may want to review the following resources:
 National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws  ABA Center on Children and the Law

Legal technical assistance

NCMEC provides legal technical assistance concerning domestic family abduction to parents/guardians and the attorneys who serve them, law enforcement and judicial officials including:

  • Information regarding possible referrals to assist with the prevention of and response to domestic family abduction.
  • Resources and assistance for attorneys representing parents/guardians and children.
  • Amicus briefs on particular issues that NCMEC is specially situated to address given its mission.

For additional information about NCMEC's legal resources concerning domestic family abduction contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).

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