Source: Jeanne M. Hannah
Prevention of Parental Abduction | Recognizing the Red Flags
Families are under so much stress in today’s society–financial and relationship stress–that parentalabduction of the children may become an issue in any given family. I have often been contacted in the past year by a parent who says his/her spouse has taken the children and moved to another state. I advise them of their rights under the UCCJEA, and of the importance of protecting home state jurisdiction by seeking return of the children to their home state before six months have elapsed, after which the new state may become the “home state” of the children where a custody battle would have to be waged. [A later post will discuss the concept of “extended home state jurisdiction.”]
Abduction prevention and recovery of abducted children has become a major part of my practice. Because the effects of abduction on children can be very serious [See Part I of this series], it is important for parents to put preventative measures in place. The purpose of today’s post is to provide parents with information to help them assess whether they should be concerned about parental abduction.
Red flags” identified by the Department of State.The Department of State identifies the following “red flags” or warning signs of risk. [See “A Family Resource Guide on International Parental Kidnapping” [From the Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention] at pages 4-5.] The Resource Guide also discusses profiles common to abducting or “taking parents.” While most parents don’t have to worry about a parent taking the child or children to a foreign country, the warning signs for interstate kidnapping are generally about the same as those for international kidnapping.According to the OJJDP, although there are no foolproof warning signs or psychological profiles for abduction risk, there are some indicators that should not be ignored. Parents are urged to be alert to the warning signs that an international kidnapping may be in the offing.
It may be a “red flag” if a parent has:
• Previously abducted or threatened to abduct the child. Some threats are unmistakable,
such as when an angry or vindictive parent verbally threatens to kidnap the child so
that “you will never see the child again.” Others are less direct. For instance, you
may learn about the other parent’s plans through casual conversation with your child.
• Citizenship in another country and strong emotional or cultural ties to the country of origin. [For interestate kidnapping, the obvious red flag is–family ties and friends in other states, with none in the state where the children are living with both parents.
• Friends or family living in another country (or, in some cases another state).
• No strong ties to the child’s home state.
• A strong support network.
• No financial reason to stay in the area (e.g., the parent is unemployed, able to work
anywhere, or is financially independent).
• Engaged in planning activities, such as quitting a job; selling a home; terminating a lease; closing a bank account or liquidating other assets; hiding or destroying documents; or securing a passport, a birth certificate, or school or medical records.
• A history of marital instability, lack of cooperation with the other parent, domestic violence, or child abuse.
• Reacted jealously to or felt threatened by the other parent’s remarriage or new romantic involvement.
• A criminal record.
Are there personality profiles of parents who may pose an abduction risk?
OJJDP has identified six personality profiles that may be helpful in predicting which parents may pose a risk of abduction, using the identifications presented by Girdner and Johnston in their research report Prevention of Family Abduction Through Early Identification of Risk Factors. That report is listed in the “Recommended Reading” section at the end of the OJJDP guide. OJJDP cautions that while these profiles may be helpful in predicting which parents may pose a risk of abduction, they do not guarantee that parents who fit a particular profile will abduct or that parents who do not fit a profile will not.
The six profiles are:
• Profile l: Parents who have threatened to abduct or have abducted previously.
• Profile 2: Parents who are suspicious or distrustful because of their belief that abuse has occurred and who have social support for their belief.
• Profile 3: Parents who are paranoid.
• Profile 4: Parents who are sociopathic.
• Profile 5: Parents who have strong ties to another country and are ending a mixed-culture marriage. [For interstate abductions, this may be strong ties to another state and/or strong family ties to a dysfunctional family.]
• Profile 6: Parents who feel disenfranchised from the legal system (e.g., those who are poor, a minority, or victims of abuse) and have family and social support.
According to the OJJDP Guide, taking parents across the six personality profiles share many common characteristics.
- They are likely to deny or dismiss the value of the other parent to the child.
- They believe they know what is best for the child, and they cannot see how or why they should share parenting with the other parent.
- They are likely to have very young children who are easy to transport and conceal and who are unlikely to protest verbally or tell others of their plight.
- With the exception of the paranoid profile, abducting parents are apt to have the financial and moral support of a network of family, friends, and/or cultural, community, or underground groups.
- Many abductors do not consider their actions illegal or morally wrong.
- Finally, according to the Guide, mothers and fathers are equally likely to abduct, although at different times—fathers before a court order, mothers after an order has been made.
Parents who fit profile 5—those who are citizens of another country (or who have dual citizenship with the United States) and who also have strong ties to their extended family in their country of origin—have long been recognized as those who might engage in international parental abduction. The risk is especially acute at the time of parental separation and divorce, when the parent feels cast adrift from a mixed-culture marriage and a need to return to ethnic or religious roots for emotional support and to reconstitute a shaken self-identity. Often, in reaction to being rendered helpless or to the insult of feeling rejected and discarded by the ex-spouse, a parent may try to take unilateral action by returning with the child to his or her family of origin. This is a way of insisting that one cultural identity be given preeminent status over the other in the child’s upbringing. Often the parent will have idealized his or her own culture, childhood, and family of origin.