If you believe that someone other than a parent has taken or is withholding your child, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Child abduction (sometimes called “parental abduction”) occurs when a parent or person acting as a parent interferes with another parent’s right to custody or visitation.

Child abduction can have devastating effects on a child’s social and emotional development and health.

(800) 843-5678



San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office
Child Abduction Unit (CAU)
303 W. 3rd Street
San Bernardino, CA 92415
(909) 382-3820

National Center For Missing And Exploited Children
(800) 843-5678


Inland County Legal Services
San Bernardino
(909) 884-8615

Lawyer Referral Service
San Bernardino
(909) 888-6791

Legal Aid
San Bernardino
(909) 889-7328

(951) 369-5653

(800) 782-7463


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

Yes. Child abduction 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 visitation, then it may be child abduction for another parent to violate that right.

If you are the abducted 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. In some cases, you might not be able to enforce your custody rights without first obtaining a custody order from court.

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.

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:

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

It depends on whether or not you have a legal right to custody. If you have no 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 the child protective agency.

If you do have a legal right to physical custody, the law requires you to take the following steps:

  • You must file a “Good Cause” report with CAU as soon as possible. Any delay beyond ten days after the abduction begins may subject you to prosecution for child abduction. For more information, contact CAU at the phone number or email address listed above.
  • You must 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.

Note: If you believe your child is in immediate danger, call 911 or notify the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services.

It depends on where you live.

If you live in San Bernardino County, you should contact your local law enforcement agency to report the interference with your custody or visitation rights. The agency will forward your report to CAU for investigation.

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 can do this even if your current custody or visitation orders came from a San Bernardino County court.

If you live outside California, the law and policy of your state or country determines whether you can obtain assistance with enforcing your custody or visitation rights. This applies even if your current custody or visitation orders came from a San Bernardino County court. Upon request from a government agency in your state or country, CAU can assist in the enforcement of your child custody or visitation rights when your child is located in San Bernardino county.

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 in the answer to the previous question.

The child abduction unit 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.

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