Recently, I received an email from a woman who had been kidnapped by her father in 1961. She described the psychological damage and the destruction of the family structure that can be so damaging to a child who has been kidnapped by a parent. She invited me to share our conversation with my readers.
"Dear Ms. Hannah,
I'm not sure if you can answer my question or not, but your name came up in my Google search. My father abducted me and my siblings in 1961 from our home state of Illinois to Mississippi, then to Louisiana, then back to Mississippi. According to my mother, she divorced my father shortly after the abduction and was awarded sole custody (could this have occurred without my father's knowledge?). Also, according to my mother, the judge told her if you can find them, they're yours. My mother also said if she had found us and attempted to take us back from our father she was told he could have had her arrested for kidnapping in that state. Were there any laws back then that could have helped my mother? Just for the record and speaking as a now adult victim of a parental kidnapping, I am of the opinion that parental kidnapping is a crime against a child, whether it's 2010 or 1961. Thank you for your time. Carolyn"
My initial response:
"How wonderful for you that you have finally been able to find your mother. One of my good friends had only one child. She was awarded custody during the divorce. She and her child lived in Chicago. Her ex-husband kidnapped their child in the early 1960s. She did not have the money to even begin to get help to find her child. Her daughter was told that her mother was dead. Her daughter was nearly 25 when she found an address book at her aunt’s house and started calling all of the numbers. Ultimately, she re-connected with her mother, but at such a late age that their relationship was never the mother-daughter relationship that might have been possible. Parental kidnapping has happened frequently, but when you were a child (and my friend's daughter was a child), there were no laws that would help either you or your mother, especially since your father kept moving around.
"To answer your questions: Your mother could have been awarded sole custody of you and your siblings without your father knowing because the judge would have allowed her, under the circumstances, to serve him “by publication” – meaning by putting an ad in a paper in the community where they last lived together since she did not know where he was. Then when the judge decided which parent would have custody, since only your mother was there, he would have awarded custody to her – especially because of the kidnapping.
"You also asked whether there any laws back then that could have helped your mother.
"Unfortunately, there were not any laws in effect in 1961 that would have helped your mother. The UCCJA was a uniform law dealing with which State should determine custody, but it proved to be inferior. It wasn't in effect anywhere until 1969 – and I do not know which states adopted it in which years. When used with the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (not enacted until 1988), it led to results that were inconsistent from State to State. Therefore, we now have the UCCJEA (Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act) which can be quite effective in getting children returned from another State."
Carolyn then shared what how the parental kidnapping affected her personally. "Just for the record and speaking as a now adult victim of a parental kidnapping, I am of the opinion that parental kidnapping is a crime against a child, whether it's 2010 or 1961."
Jeanne: "I certainly agree with you. It is a crime against a child to deprive the child of a loving parent. I am very sorry that you had to spend so much of your life away from your mother. I hope that you will have some good and loving years with her in your life."
Carolyn: "Thank you very much for the information and the links. Since you are an attorney that handles these types of cases, I would like to express to you the importance of finding the abducted child and returning him/her to their home and left-behind parent as soon as possible; though I am sure you are probably aware of this already. I was 5 when abducted and not returned until I was 12. So much time had passed that I no longer knew or recognized my mother or extended family members. I had also been physically abused and terrorized by my father. Obviously, my father did this to seek revenge against my mother. The abduction and its aftermath has literally destroyed our family. The reunification was not a happy ending. Therefore, also of great importance, is immediate intervention by mental health professionals when the recovery of the child is made.
"If you are still in touch with your friend and her child that was abducted I would highly recommend a website: http://takeroot.org. They are an online forum specifically for the adult child who was kidnapped by a family member. Liss Hart-Haviv is the Executive Director, and herself an abducted child. She presents to law enforcement, mental health professionals, etc. all across the nation on issues about parental kidnapping and the impact on children. I have been a member for 3 years now and have found it more than helpful.
"According to the Department of Justice there are 203,900 cases of family abduction every year. Hopefully, with all the recent media attention, specifically that of international child abductions, it will help bring this issue to greater public awareness and to stricter laws.
"Again, thank you for the information and your timely response!"
Jeanne: "Thank you, Carolyn, for helping victims of parental abduction and parents see this issue from your eyes and from your experience."
Are you in need of an attorney to help you recover your abducted child? Telephone Jeanne M. Hannah today at (231) 275-5600. See her website http://parentalkidnapping.com for information.