The police are on high alert. Automated billboards along the highway display the warning message and a description of the car. The neighbors are all talking in hushed tones, huddled together by the curb. People in dark jackets with large letters F. B. I. stamped on the back stalk the grounds and house. Reporters stand in front of cameras mounted next to the mobile broadcast studio vans; their booms extended to send the word to the public. A terrible crime has been committed. The message is clear: be on the lookout for a kidnapper. A child is in terrible danger.
Or is he?
If a child is taken by a pedophile, of course he is in terrible danger. Send out helicopters, call in the National Guard, release the hounds, turn on the search lights; nothing is too much to ensure the safe return of the poor child victim. But suppose the kidnapper is not a stranger. Suppose the kidnapper—this heinous criminal, this reviled villain—is actually a loving father or mother who wants nothing more than to care for his or her child. Why are we so quick to treat them as though they were a psychopath bent on doing bodily harm to the child? Why do we even refer to the child as a victim in this situation?
The child is no victim. In fact, he is every bit as safe as if he were at home with his other parent, yet the news media and virtually every person will tsk tsk and say things like “that poor child” as if something dreadful had happened. I get emails from well-meaning friends who implore me to look out for so-in-so’s child who was “kidnapped” by the non-custodial parent and it makes me kind of mad. As a single father, I fully understand the plight of non-custodial parents and have little sympathy for the plights of the other party.
Family court these days has made a mockery of the family as a unit. Parents who divorce do so because they decide they want different things in life. In many cases, the custody of the children is not even questioned as one parent or the other abdicates their parental responsibilities. Sometimes the two can even arrange a cooperative agreement where they both co-parent even after the divorce. In other cases, however, both parents want to be involved in their children’s lives and it is only because of vindictiveness and bad feelings from the breakup that they fight about this issue. Family courts have traditionally given custody to the mother unless the father can prove that the mother will actually harm the children. It is not enough to prove that a father can be a better parent—no, the mother has to be completely unfit before the courts will give custody to a father.
This is where the problem comes into stark relief. Two people want to parent their children, but the court says only one can. In many cases, this drives a desperate parent to do something drastic. He or she will simply take the child. This is a violation of court order and will have legal ramifications, but does it rise to the level of a federal crime? Can a parent take a child against his or her will? Heck, I dragged my kids to places they didn’t want to go all the time. Was that kidnapping? The parent is the parent, it does not stop just because a judge makes a ruling. If a child is in the custody of a loving parent, no terrible crime has been committed. This is merely a violation of court order, just like a failure to pay child support, or failure to provide insurance. You don’t see reporters flocking to the yard of a deadbeat dad or a strung out mother.
I refuse to become concerned about a child who is with a loving parent. If the other parent is upset, I can sympathize, and there are legal channels to be taken, but it should not be a criminal court issue. It is a family court issue and I refuse to become concerned about it.