Travel.State.Gov > International Parental Child Abduction > Abductions > Legal Information for Parents > Pressing Criminal Charges
International parental child abduction is crime in every State and the District of Columbia under specified circumstances. International parental child abduction is also a federal crime under the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA).
Your decision about whether to pursue criminal charges against the taking parent is a difficult one that should be made through consultation with your legal representative and in consideration of its potential impact on other aspects of your efforts to secure your child’s return. The Office of Children’s Issues can provide information about U.S. laws that make parental abduction a crime, resources for how to pursue a criminal warrant, and observations about some of the potential consequences of such an action based on knowledge of the laws and/or practices in the country to which your child has been abducted. We cannot, however, recommend a specific course of action or guarantee a specific outcome.
Depending on the circumstances, criminal charges filed against the taking parent can either help or hinder the successful return of your child. Therefore, it is important to weigh the pros and cons carefully and to obtain legal advice from an attorney before making the decision that you believe is best for your child. The purpose of a criminal warrant is to authorize law enforcement officials to apprehend and present the taking parent for prosecution. Your child is not subject to the warrant, which means that successful apprehension of the taking parent will not necessarily result in the return of your child. It can, however, serve as a negotiation tool since the taking parent may agree to voluntarily return the child in exchange for leniency or dropped charges.
The existence of criminal charges may also negatively impact a foreign court’s decision about whether to order or deny your child’s return under the Hague Abduction Convention. Although the Hague Abduction Convention pertains to children, not to their taking parents, in practice many judges are reluctant to order a return if the taking parent cannot accompany the child back to the United States. If the judge hearing the Hague Abduction Convention case is aware the taking parent faces arrest upon arrival, the judge may deny the return or order it only if the criminal charges are dropped. While you may request withdrawal of criminal charges against the taking parent, only the entity which issued the charges and/or a judge has the authority do so and may not agree to your request.
You will need to consider your goals and the implications criminal charges may have for you and your child. The prosecutor, the laws of the country where your child is located, and the taking parent’s behavior will all have an effect on how successful criminal charges are in securing your child’s return. Understanding these considerations may help you predict whether criminal charges can be an effective option for you and your child.
When your child is missing you should immediately report the abduction to law enforcement. Law Enforcement should respond immediately, and enter your child into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person Database. The initial response from law enforcement could determine whether or not a child is quickly and safely recovered.
Entering your child into NCIC does not automatically initiate criminal proceedings against the taking parent. It is best to consult with an attorney before you decide to pursue criminal charges. Depending on your State laws, law enforcement may require that you have a custody order, before seeking criminal warrants. HELPFUL HINT: We recommend that you keep a record of all your correspondence with all parties you interact with, including law enforcement. Note as well the names of the people you speak to, the dates and times of the conversations, and the information provided.