What Is Parental Kidnapping?

Written by Jonathan Breeden

November 4, 2021

Parents often fear a stranger abducting their child. However, the kidnapping of children by a parent happens more than you might think. Read on to learn more about how to protect yourself and your child from parental kidnapping.

Kidnapping Laws in North Carolina

Under North Carolina law, kidnapping is the crime of “confining, restraining, or removing” from one place to another without their consent. When the victim is age 16 or under and violates the other parent’s custody or visitation rights, the crime becomes parental kidnapping.

Acts of parental kidnapping include:

  • Refusing to return the child after custody or visitation expires
  • Fleeing the jurisdiction with the child
  • Hiding the child and refusing to reveal their location

Why Parents Kidnap Their Child

Parental kidnapping happens for various reasons. It occurs most frequently in high-conflict separation and divorce. Parental kidnapping usually results from anger, resentment, and a desire to inflict pain on the other parent. A parent might also kidnap their child while under the influence of drugs or from a mental health crisis.

Kidnapping is a serious charge and is not always applicable for every custody disagreement. A parent can be falsely accused of kidnapping when there is a reasonable explanation, such as:

Miscommunication Between Parents

A parent returns a child later than intended due to miscommunication.


A parent might miss the pick-up or drop-off time because of an emergency, such as a car accident.


The parent with the child or the child suddenly becomes ill or needs urgent medical care.

Custody Orders & Parental Kidnapping

North Carolina recognizes two types of child custody: physical and legal. Both parents usually have legal custody and can independently decide the child’s medical care, education, and other issues.

Typically, a child spends more time living with one parent, making them the primary physical custodian. The parent who does not have primary physical custody may not remove the child from the jurisdiction, even with legal custody.

Proactive Measures Against Parental Kidnapping

A parent may take specific measures to help prevent kidnapping or custodial violations.

Create A Child Custody Order

You have fewer options to protect against parental kidnapping without court-ordered custody. It is in the best interest of you and your child to put a custody order in effect immediately.

Supervised Visitation

Supervised visitation is when the non-custodial parent may only see the child while supervised by another adult. This arrangement ensures that a child is safe while promoting the parent-child bond.

Sole Custody

Sole custody means that the non-custodial parent cannot keep the child overnight or for any length of time not specified in the visitation agreement.

What To Do if Your Ex Kidnaps Your Child

You have legal options to hold a parent accountable for kidnapping your child.

File a Motion for Contempt

A judge can order that the parent who violated the custody be held in civil or criminal contempt. The violating parent could go to jail, pay a fine, or both.

If you don’t have custody orders, you cannot seek a motion for contempt.

Request Temporary Emergency Custody Order

If there are no standing custody orders, you can ask the court to issue a temporary emergency custody order.

There are five grounds for temporary emergency custody orders in North Carolina:

  1. To prevent a child’s removal from the jurisdiction
  2. To return the child to a suitable custodian
  3. To provide continuing stability in a worsening situation
  4. To preserve the status quo
  5. To protect the child from physical and sexual abuse, harm, or neglect

Protective Orders

A parent desperate enough to attempt kidnapping is also a physical threat to your safety. You may also seek protective orders to prohibit your spouse from contacting you or your child. A judge may issue a restraining order to keep your spouse from your child’s home, school, or daycare center.

Criminal Prosecution under Federal Law

Under the Parental Kidnapping and Prevention Act (PKPA), the federal government recognizes the child’s home state (in this case, North Carolina) as the legal authority and enforcer in child custody disputes. Enacted in 1980, the PKPA discouraged parents from abducting their child into another state with the hopes of a more favorable custody arrangement.

The North Carolina court may press charges against the kidnapping parent.

International Parental Kidnapping

Some parents attempt not just to flee the state but the country. If your child is the victim of international parental kidnapping, the Hague Convention could help return them safely. The Hague Convention is an international treaty in which participating countries pool their resources to locate a child abducted by a parent.

Contact a North Carolina Child Custody Lawyer

No child should experience the fear and stress of parental kidnapping. Having a solid child custody order in place can help relieve your anxiety and put the other parent on legal notice.

If you’ve filed for divorce but don’t have child custody orders, or if you have good reason to pursue sole custody, call the Breeden Law Office. Our child custody lawyers protect the rights of you and your child.

Call the Breeden Law Office today to start on your case as soon as tomorrow. Call (919) 661-4970 or use our online form.


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