Possible Solutions - Pressing Criminal Charges

Pressing Criminal Charges

International parental child abduction is crime in every State and the District of Columbia.  In some cases an abducting parent may be charged with a crime.  International parental child abduction may also a Federal crime under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA).

Your Decision to Use Criminal Charges

Your decision whether or not to press criminal charges against the abducting parent is a difficult and important one.  Depending on the circumstances, criminal charges can be a powerful tool to achieve your child’s safe return; however, they can also have the opposite affect and jeopardize the return of your child. 

When deciding whether to pursue criminal charges, keep in mind the potential reaction of the abducting parent.  This may help you predict whether criminal charges would be an effective option.

Pros and Cons of Pressing Criminal Charges:


  • The criminal process may help you locate your child.  In some places, law enforcement will only conduct a search for a child if there are criminal charges pending. 
  • If the abductor is not a United States citizen, a warrant may encourage the abducting parent to return the child voluntarily, especially if he or she has business or other reasons to travel to the United States.
  • Abductions post a risk of harm to children, and perpetrators should be brought to justice.
  • Prosecutions may protect children from repeat abductions.
  • Criminal convictions result in a criminal record – this may be significant to judges making custody and visitation decisions and impact the ability of the taking parent to travel to the United States.
  • Public awareness of successful prosecution of an abductor may help deter others from abducting their children.


  • An outstanding criminal warrant may deter a voluntary or negotiated return.
  • Criminal charges may adversely affect return proceedings under the Hague Abduction Convention – some foreign judges have refused to order a child’s return under the Convention if the parent’s return would likely result in his or her arrest.
  • The abducting parent may react by increasing his/her efforts to remain undetected, going deeper into hiding.  This is especially true in countries in which the abducting parent has family and/or deep ties in the community. 
  • It can be emotionally damaging on the child if the abducting parent is prosecuted and perhaps incarcerated.
  • The criminal justice system takes into account several interests, some of which may be in conflict with your wishes.  These interests include those of the child, each parent, the civil justice system in seeking a workable custody agreement, and the criminal justice system in seeking justice.

Begin by Contacting Law Enforcement

HELPFUL HINT: We recommend keeping a log of all correspondence with law enforcement. Note in the log the person that you spoke to, the date and time of the conversation, and the information provided by the law enforcement official.

If you decide to try to obtain a warrant against the abducting parent, initiate the process by reporting the abduction to law enforcement. They should respond with immediate action, including entering your child into the NCIC Missing Person File as an “Involuntary Missing” or “Endangered.”  The initial response from law enforcement can determine whether or not a child is quickly and safely recovered. 

  • Your Local Police:  Most international abductions are first reported to your local police.  If they decide the case merits the issuance of an arrest warrant for the abducting parent, your local police (in coordination with the local prosecutor) may seek issuance of an Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP) warrant under the Federal Fugitive Felon Act.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI):  You may also report your case directly to the FBI.  The FBI may decide to treat the abduction as a felony under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act.  You can obtain the phone number of your local FBI office by looking in your phone book, or by viewing the FBI’s website www.fbi.gov.

The Criminal Justice Process

  • Coordinated Effort: To successfully resolve an international parental child abduction case using criminal charges, a coordinated effort by Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies is needed.  U.S. law enforcement will also enlist the cooperation of law enforcement authorities in the foreign country to carry on the investigation.    
  • Types of Warrants: There are two types of warrants that you could be issued against the abducting parent: a State warrant and a Federal warrant.  State warrants usually require you to have had court-ordered custody at the time of the abduction.  Federal law enforcement officers, on the other hand, do not always require you to have to court-ordered custody to issue a warrant..
  • Foreign Policies, Customs, and Laws: Sometimes efforts to investigate the case can be hindered by the foreign country’s policies and customs, as they relate to religion, gender, nationality, and other factors.  What’s more, the foreign country may not have laws against parental child abduction. 

HELPFUL HINT:  Law enforcement authorities in the U.S. and some countries abroad may be unfamiliar with international parental child abduction.  If this is the case, please call our office.  We may be able to help.  

Prosecution of an Abductor in a Foreign Country

A final possibility in the area of criminal justice is prosecution of the abductor by the authorities of the foreign country where he or she is found.  In many countries (but generally not the United States), nationals of the country can be prosecuted for acts committed abroad if the same conduct would constitute a criminal offense under local law.  United States law enforcement authorities can request such prosecution by forwarding to the foreign country the evidence that would have been used in a United States prosecution.  United States witnesses may, of course, have to appear and testify in the foreign proceeding.  Like the courses of action discussed above, this approach also risks being counterproductive and will not necessarily result in the return of the child.


Settling out of Court | Using the Hague Abduction Convention | Using a Foreign Country's Civil Justice System | Pressing Criminal Charges | Applying Country Specific Information

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