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Child Abduction Unit FAQs

Disclaimer

The information provided below is for general educational purposes.  It is not intended as legal advice.  You should consult an attorney to verify or explain any of this information. In these FAQ’s, the word “parent” also includes a legal guardian

What is child abduction?

Under California law, child abduction basically means violating another person’s right to physical custody or visitation of a child.  A violation may result from taking, enticing away, keeping, withholding, or concealing the child.  The term “child abduction” refers to parental-type abductions, not to kidnapping by a stranger.

Can a parent abduct his or her own child?

Yes.  The law focuses mainly on the rights of the left-behind parent, not the rights of the abducting parent.  If the left-behind parent has a right to joint custody or to visitation, then it may be child abduction for another parent to violate that right.

What if the other parent takes or keeps my child but we have never been to court?

If you are the child’s natural parent as defined by California law, you may be the victim of child abduction.  A natural parent automatically has a right to physical custody of his or her child.  No one, not even another parent, may violate that right.

What if my custody rights are based on court orders from another state or country?

Court orders from other states or countries normally are enforceable in California.  So, if you live in California, it is child abduction for someone to deprive you of custody or visitation, even if your rights are based on court orders from another state or country.  

Does the statute of limitations prevent enforcement of child abduction law?

As long as the abductor keeps the child from you, the statute of limitations normally does not apply.  It applies only under the following circumstances—

  1. At some point, you have consented to the abductor taking or retaining the child.
  2. You legally lose your right to custody or visitation—for example, by court order.
  3. The child is returned to you.
  4. The child turns 18.

What if I have abducted a child to protect him or her from harm?

It depends on whether or not you have a legal right to custody.

  • If you do not have a legal right to physical custody of the child, you should immediately contact law enforcement or a child protective agency to report the danger.  You may not withhold the child any longer than necessary to contact law enforcement or a child protective agency.
  • If you have a legal right to physical custody, you may withhold a child for a longer period of time, if necessary to protect the child.  But you must also follow these steps required by law—
  1. You must file a “Good Cause” report with the district attorney as soon as reasonably possible.  Any delay beyond ten days may subject you to prosecution for child abduction.  Forms for making a “Good Cause” report are available by clicking here.
  2. You must also seek a court order granting you custody.  Your request must be filed with the court as soon as reasonably possible.  Any delay beyond 30 days may subject you to prosecution for child abduction.

What should I do if I am the victim (left-behind parent) of child abduction?

It depends on where you live.

  • If you live in San Bernardino County, contact your local law enforcement agency to make a report.  The agency will forward the report to our office for investigation.  You should also fill out and submit the questionnaire available here.  Once we have received the police report and questionnaire, we will attempt to locate or recover the child.
  • If you live in another California county, contact your county’s district attorney to find out how to report child abduction in your county.  You should do this even if your current custody or visitation orders came from a San Bernardino county court.
  • If you live outside California, your state or country may or may not actively enforce child custody orders.  The law and policy of your state or country determines this.  This applies even if your current custody or visitation orders came from a San Bernardino county court.  In some cases, we can assist a government agency from your state or country when an abducted child is located in our county. 

My friend or relative is the victim (left-behind parent) of child abduction. What should I do?

You should encourage the left-behind parent to follow the instructions provided above.  It is the victim’s responsibility to make the report to law enforcement and to seek enforcement of his or her custody rights. 

I have a right to custody that is being violated.  How can the Child Abduction Unit help me?

I have a right to custody that is being violated.  How can the Child Abduction Unit help me?  

If you have a right to custody that is being violated, CAU can help you locate and recover your child.  The first step is to make a police report, as explained above.

Can the Child Abduction Unit help me when my child is abducted out of state or in another country?

CAU has located and recovered children from all over the United States and the world.  The United States and many other countries have signed a written agreement or treaty to return abducted children found within their borders.  It is called the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

How do I seek a child custody order, or a child abduction prevention order, from a court?

You can use the forms and instructions available at the California Courts Self-Help Center here.

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It is the mission of the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office to represent the interests of the people in the criminal justice system, as mandated by California State law. The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office serves the residents of San Bernardino County by: seeking the truth, protecting the innocent; holding the guilty accountable; preserving the dignity of victims and their families; and, ensuring that justice is done while always maintaining the highest ethical standards.

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