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Child abduction is a serious issue that Family Law lawyers have to deal with from time to time. The average person may be surprised to learn that the perpetrators of abduction are often the parents of the very children taken.

Hello, I’m Andrew Feldstein. Over the 18 years that I’ve practised Family law, I’m happy to say that child abductions are infrequent. But they do happen. They are traumatic for all involved.

In highly contentious divorce cases, particularly where one of the parents has ties to another jurisdiction, be it within Canada or internationally, the odds that abduction will take place increase significantly.

Embattled spouses sometimes put their children in the middle of their dispute and abducting a child or children is arguably the most hurtful example of putting your own interests ahead of your children.

Child abduction is very serious. From a legal standpoint, child abduction is also a criminal offense.

If you are going through a separation, there are clear warning signs that abduction may take place. Be aware of the signs. If you are able to identify these signs early enough, you may be able to prevent the abduction of your child.

As I mentioned, “high conflict” separations or divorces are more likely to lead to abduction. In situations where your custody and access arrangement hasn’t been effective, or where your ex-partner has made explicit comments or gestures that suggest they may take steps to prevent you from exercising access with your child, it is essential that you start analyzing the circumstances in depth. Ask yourself all of the following questions:

  • What is your ex’s current employment situation?
  • Does your ex have any valuable assets in another province or country?
  • Does your ex have a foreign passport?
  • Does your ex have family anywhere else?

It is important to think critically about these questions, because if your ex and child or children were to disappear out of the blue, you might have the tools to dig for some clues as to where they are going. Knowing where to dig, in a hurry, is extremely helpful. More often than not, time is of the essence in abduction.

For example, if your ex quits their job and begins selling off local assets, that is a sign they are thinking about leaving town. They may not be able to finish severing all their local ties before you are able to expose what they are planning to do. Or, if your ex has a passport from a country overseas and large family in another country, your search may be aided by these international affiliations.

If you have any doubt at all about the intentions of your ex-partner and fear he or she might run off with your child, then the first steps are calling your lawyer and perhaps even informing the police so that they are aware of the potential threat. In alerting the authorities, you may want to do the following:

  • File the travel documents of your children with the Court; or
  • Arrange for Passport Canada to put the names of your children on the Passport control list.

You may also be able to empower your child by providing him or her with instruction and contact information to be used in the event of an emergency. Depending on the age of the child and his or her relationship with the abducting parent, the child may be able to identify that the abducting parent is committing a wrongful act and, in turn, advise the victimized parent of his or her location.

Hopefully, these warning signs and preventative techniques will help.

If the worst does happen, there are also some avenues through which the search for an already abducted child can be sped up. Providing the authorities with a detailed description of the child or children taken is important. Some of these children’s identification kits are available from your local police department. Keep this information, or completed kit, in a safe place. Providing a detailed description of the culprit spouse is also important. The police and the variety of agencies that assist in finding abducted children can use this information to assist them.

Be aware that abductions can also take place prior to a separation. So, the warning signs that I just talked about are equally important if you are experiencing serious marital difficulties prior to a separation.

I wish that child abduction did not exist, but the reality is that it does happen. Unfortunately, abduction will continue to be a serious offense that family lawyers and some of their clients must address. For more information, please visit our website.

For the Feldstein Family Law Group, I’m Andrew Feldstein.