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What to Do if Your "Ex" Fails to Return Your Children on Time

It’s 9:00 PM Sunday and your two girls were due back from their weekend with your "ex" three hours earlier. You’ve called and your former spouse says he/she will bring them back when he/she is "good and ready". You ask when that might be and the reply is "maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe never".

What should you do?

Although child abduction by a parent is rare, I always urge clients to be immediately proactive at the first sign that one parent is intentionally not returning the child at the appointed time. To be sure, delays due to weather, car trouble, or even occasional tardiness are excusable. But, the combination of being several hours late with belligerence and threats is particularly ominous.

It is also against the law in Missouri. A parent that willfully refuses to return a child at the time indicated in a valid court order, without good cause, commits a Class D felony of child abduction punishable by up to four years in prison. So, once your children are unaccountably overdue by more than a few minutes, you should do the following:

  • Call your "ex" to learn the cause of the delay and to determine exactly where your children are at that moment.
  • If the delay seems legitimate, find out when the children will arrive.

If the children are returned by "the new time", this is a happy ending even if it leaves you a bit annoyed and inconvenienced. However, if you cannot reach your former spouse, or if your "ex" can’t provide a credible reason for the delay, and/or is unwilling to commit to returning your children as soon as possible, it’s time for immediate action.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Go to the police. Take the court order that identifies the custody schedule as well as complete information about where your former spouse might be found and the make, model and license plate number of his/her vehicle. Go to the police in the jurisdiction where you believe your children are at that moment. If you are unsure of their location, go to the station in the community where your "ex" resides. If that is too far or impractical, go to the nearest Missouri police station.
  • Once there, ask for the highest ranking officer on duty. Tell the officer that you have good reason to believe that your former spouse has abducted your child, without good cause, in violation of state law (Section 565.156 of the Missouri Revised Statutes). Calmly repeat whatever you know about the cause of the delay and that your "ex" has refused to return your children immediately even though it seems that he/she is able to do so. Present your court order, pointing out the required schedule.
  • Ask the police for their immediate assistance in locating and retrieving your children. At a minimum, they should try to contact your former spouse and learn of the children’s current location. Whether they reach your "ex" or not, the police should next go to where the children can most likely be found and you should ask to accompany them so the children, once found, can be returned to your custody.

Typically, involving the police resolves the problem and sends a clear signal to your former spouse that this sort of obstinacy carries with it grave consequences. Occasionally, though, the path to resolution is not as straight or smooth.

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