International Family Abduction Prevention Tips

The information below is from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs. 1

Dual Nationality

Children born to a foreign parent may have dual citizenship. In addition to being a citizen of the United States, they may also have the citizenship of the other parent. This may be true even if the foreign parent has become a naturalized citizen of the United States. Foreign governments may therefore provide their citizens with a passport, visa, and exit or entry permits for themselves and/or the child.

To determine if your child has dual nationality, contact the nation’s embassy or consulate. Provide them with a copy of a court order granting you sole/joint custody or restricting the child from being removed from the United States. While the embassy is not legally obligated to honor your request, they may be persuaded by it.

To learn more about dual nationality, visit the web site of the Passport Office at the Department of State at

The information below is from Parental Kidnapping: Prevention and Remedies2 by Patricia M. Hoff.

Common “Red Flags”

According to the American Bar Association, the chances of an international abduction may increase when a parent has

  • previously abducted the child or threatened to do so
  • no strong ties to the child’s home state
  • friends or family living abroad
  • a strong support network
  • no job, can earn a living almost anywhere, or is financially independent
  • recently quit a job, sold a home or terminated a lease, closed a bank account or liquidated other assets
  • a history of marital instability or a lack of parental cooperation
  • a prior criminal record

Consider Mediation

Seek assistance from a counseling or mediating source. Many parents fearful of, or experiencing, an international parental abduction request assistance from a missing children’s organization specializing in international abduction. Keep lists of information about your former partner and his or her friends and family, both in the U.S. and abroad. Keep a record of passport numbers, immigration status, and visa work permit numbers.

A parent who feels his or her relationship to the child is threatened may be likely to abduct. Further, in international cases, a foreign parent may want the child raised within a certain culture or religion. As in all cases where parental abduction is threatened, a custody mediator may help to refocus the attention of the parents on what is best for the child and assist in developing workable cross-cultural, child-rearing strategies.

Obtain a Custody Order

Obtaining a valid custody order or decree is essential to preventing the abduction of your child. Seek the advice of a qualified attorney who can assist you in gaining sole custody of your child. Avoid joint custody orders in families with citizenship in more than one country. If the foreign parent abducts the child to his or her home country, an order called “joint custody” may be interpreted as authorizing the retention of the child in that country. If joint custody is nevertheless awarded, make sure a “primary residential custodian” is named and the order specifies where and with whom the child is to live at what times. Contact your local or state bar association for assistance in locating an attorney with experience in family custody law.

Specify in the custody order the exact times and locations for visitation. Set up a legally enforceable visitation schedule for the other parent. You may find it necessary to request the courts in the United States restrict any visitation rights the noncustodial parent has until sufficient guarantees have been given that the parent will not abduct the child. In the event temporary suspension of visitation by the noncustodial parent is not appropriate, request that the allowed visitation be supervised.

U.S. Passport Restrictions

For children younger than 14, both parents must give permission for the issuance of a U.S. passport. In addition federal law now requires that each child younger than 14 must appear in person with the parents, and parents must show acceptable identification and proof of parental relationship to the child.

Remember, when a parent has dual citizenship the issuance of a U.S. passport does not automatically prevent that parent from obtaining a foreign passport. In addition foreign embassies are not required to honor a request or court order restricting the issuance of a passport.

The U.S. Department of State can confirm whether or not a U.S. passport has been issued to your child. If a passport has not been issued, you or your attorney may request that your child’s name be entered into the U.S. Department of State’s Passport Alert system. The U.S. Department of State will then notify you if a passport application is received anywhere in the United States, or U.S. Embassy or consulate in another country, for your child. The U.S. Department of State may be able to refuse issuance of a passport if you have a court order granting you sole custody or require your signature for the child to travel.

U.S. Department of State
Office of Children’s Issues
SA-29 Fourth Floor
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520-2818

Telephone 202-736-9124
Fax 202-736-9133

Your request should include your child’s full name, date of birth, and place of birth; a copy of any court orders relating to the custody or travel restrictions of the child; and the address and telephone number(s) where you can be reached.

For information about passport requirements for children younger than 14 visit

For information about the Passport Issuance Alert Program visit

Actions to Take Once an Abduction Has Occurred

1: Keep a Complete Description of Your Children
This description must include color of hair, color of eyes, height, weight, and date of birth. In addition the description should contain any “identifying” information such as use of eyeglasses or contact lenses, braces on teeth, pierced ears, and other unique physical attributes. The complete description must be written down.

2: Arrange With Your Local Law-Enforcement Agency to Have Your Children Fingerprinted
In order for fingerprints to be useful in identifying a person, they must be properly taken. Your local law-enforcement agency has trained personnel to help ensure the fingerprints taken will be useful. The law-enforcement agency will give you the fingerprint card and not keep a record of your children’s fingerprints.

3: Flag Physician’s Records
Instruct the doctor’s office not to release any records about your child to any unauthorized sources.

4: Immediately Involve Local Law Enforcement
If the potential abductor has threatened you, your child, or your family in any way, do not hesitate to notify your local law-enforcement agency. Inform them of your concerns and the name and description of the noncustodial parent. You may also use the threat of an abduction as the basis for a protection order.

5: Keep a Journal
Record a chronology of events as they happen. This will help you remember the events exactly as they occurred.

Actions to Take “Just in Case” Your Child May Be Abducted

1: Notify Schools, Daycare, and Babysitters
A certified copy of the custody decree should be on file at your child’s school and given to teachers, daycare personnel, and babysitters. Inform them of the risk of abduction by the noncustodial parent. Instruct them not to allow your child to leave the grounds with anyone besides you. If possible, give them a photograph of the potential abductor. Also inform the school administrative offices not to release your child’s records to any unauthorized sources.

2: Take a Photograph of Your Child Every Month
Have a photograph taken similar to that in a passport or school picture.

3: Teach Your Child How to Use the Telephone
Your children should know their full name and how to use the telephone to call home. Make sure your children know their home telephone number and area code. Practice calling the operator and making collect calls. Teach your children they should always call home if they feel threatened, scared,
or are in an unusual situation.

4: Empower Your Children
Help your children help themselves. Be as honest as you can about the potential abduction. Custodial parents should inform their children to never go on a trip without them. Let your children know they should ask law enforcement for help if they are in an airport or traveling without your permission.

When instructing your children about how to use the telephone, make sure they know how to make long-distance and international calls. Teach them to dial “0” for an operator or “911” in an emergency.

For more information about how to prevent an international child abduction, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: Missing Children’s Division International Team at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

1Bureau of Consular Affairs. International Parental Child Abductions.  Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, July 1997.
2Patricia M. Hoff. Parental Kidnapping: Prevention and Remedies. Washington, DC: American Bar Association and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, 1997.

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