Parental Kidnapping

The United States Department of Justice estimates that 150,000 kidnappings by a parent of his or her child occur in this country each year. Some studies estimate that a more accurate figure would be 500,000, since many do not get reported to the police.

Experts say that 90% of parental kidnappings are motivated by a desire for revenge against the custodial parent. In those instances, the child becomes a pawn in the painful “gotcha game” between the mother and father.

Sometimes, however, the parent doing the “snatching” truly believes an emergency situation exists, and that the “self-help” removal of the child from the custodial parent in in the best interests of the child. The typical example is when the “snatching” parent believes the child is the victim of ongoing sexual abuse, child abuse, or exposure to dangerous and continuing drug activity.

A good example of how complicated these cases can become is the highly-publicized Elizabeth Morgan case from 1989. Dr. Elizabeth Morgan was a plastic surgeon. She sent her 5-year-old daughter into hiding instead of complying with a court order giving custody to her ex-husband (who was also a doctor) because she believed her ex-husband had repeatedly raped the child. She spent 25 months in jail for contempt of court for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of her daughter, but was not prosecuted criminally.

In Colorado, a parent commits parental kidnapping when he, knowing he has no privilege to do so, takes or entices any child under the age of eighteen from the custody of the lawful custodian. The crime is a class 5 felony. It is a class 4 felony when the child is taken out of the country.

The best defense in a parental kidnapping case is that the accused “reasonably believed that his conduct was necessary to preserve the child from danger to his welfare.” It is also a valid defense to parental kidnapping that the child was more than fourteen years old and was taken at the child’s own “instigation” and “without purpose to commit a criminal offense against the child.” See C.R.S. 18-3-304(3).

The lawyers at ParkerLawyers have experience handling parental kidnapping cases. Morley Swingle prosecuted several of these cases (and declined to file many others) during his 25 years as a state-court prosecutor. One of his first law journal articles deal with a type of parental kidnapping called interference with custody. See H.M. Swingle & J.W. Hahn, “Child-Snatching: A Remedy Reinforced,” 40 J. Mo. Bar 549 (1984). To read the article, click here.

If you are being investigated or are being charged with parental kidnapping, or if your child has been abducted by a non-custodial parent and the authorities won’t take your complaint seriously, call Parker Lawyers at (303) 841-9525.