First, without a standing court ordered and recorded custody decision, there is no such thing as parental kidnapping. Parents are seen as having equal "rights" to the child and either can go where they want, when they want with that child at any time. If, however, one parent removes the child to a second or unknown location, the purpose of which is to deny the custody or visitation of the other parent, even without a standing custody decision, it is considered parental kidnapping. In such situations, while warrants for the arrest of the absconding parent and the return of the child are being issued, the left behind parent will also be granted emergency custody.
Moving to another state or location with the child, after duly notifying the other parent is NOT kidnapping. Non-notification of the impending move is RARELY sufficient in and of itself to have kidnapping charges immediately filed, as long as the new location is not secret. Usually, a judge will give the departed parent opportunity to produce the child. Violation of this order IS parental kidnapping. However, moving without notification usually ends up with the left behind parent being granted physical and sometimes sole custody, often with supervised visitation only for the parent who moved without going through proper chanels.
Failure to return a child after scheduled visitation and/or failure to produce a child for a scheduled visitation is usually in and of itself NOT immediately considered parental kidnapping. It is interference with court orders, and/or contempt of court and generally is redressed by returning to court for an emergency decree. Only if you have solid, clear custody papers will the police get involved in this situation. Even then, they may tell you to get an emergency hearing and 'tell it to the judge'. Failure to respond or produce at that point IS parental kidnapping.
In these as well as most other instances, the purpose and intent of the judge is to get the child back into contact with both parents. The function is to honor the best interests of the child, which is to be in contact with both parents. Only when one parent has intentionally or continues to willfully interfere with the child's right to access to both parents is a judge likely to issue a bench warrant and/or press for a filing of kidnapping charges.
Now, what Parental Kidnapping is really all about. It is ALMOST NEVER about the child. It is ALMOST ALWAYS about the parents. There is no better, quicker way to affect a parent than to interfere with their contact with their kids.
Judges know this. Police know this. Lawyers know this. And most parents, at least those who are not completely self-absorbed know this also.
We have all heard about cases where a child is molested, abused, neglected, harmed or killed by a parent. The truth is that out of an average of 200,000 to 300,000 cases of parental abduction each year,(according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) less than 1% involve plausible, proveable fears of abuse or danger to the child. In almost every other case, it is simply a matter of one parent trying to hurt the other parent. Again, judges know this, police know this and the rest of us (non-abductors) know this. The occasional case where an abusing parent is granted custody or visitaion and ends up harming the child are well publicized and truly tragic. But they are VERY RARE cases.
What parental abduction should be classified under, in addition to being a felony, is child abuse. It is one of the most damaging things that can happen to a child, with the long term effects still not fully understood.