Many divorced parents -- as well as parents in bad marriages -- share the nightmare that their spouses may one day abduct their children, says Geoffrey Greif, author of "When Parents Kidnap: The Families Behind the Headlines."
Most cases of abduction are preceded by clear warning signs of frustration, anger, desperation and even threats by the abducting parent, he says.
The following are some statistics about abductions obtained from research by Dr. Greif and his co-author Dr. Rebecca Hegar and from a recent study by the U.S. Department of Justice.
* Abductions are most likely to take place when the non-custodial parent has the child for a visit or over a holiday; one quarter of all abductions are in August, followed by July and January.
* A little more than half of all abductions take place a year after a couple has separated. However, 41 percent of abductors (including victims of physical abuse) take children before a relationship has ended.
* A third of the children abducted are aged 2 to 5. The average age of the abducting parent is mid-30s.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children offers tips to prevent abduction and to help with the speedy recovery of the child:
* Work on healthy communication with your children, make sure they know you will always love and want to see them. Teach them your phone number and how to contact a close friend or family member.
* Keep lists of information about your former spouse including Social Security number, driver's license number, car registration number, checking and savings account numbers and credit card information.
* Maintain a complete written description of your child and update it. Take color photographs every six months.
* Do not ignore threats of abduction. Consider consulting a family counselor for help.
* Even if you are not legally married, obtain legal custody of your child.
If your child is abducted, you should immediately:
* Report it to the police.
* Call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: (800) 843-5678.
* Get a child custody order in your favor if you do not already have one. Many searches are delayed when the searching parent does not have a custody order.
* Child Find of America Inc. offers a free investigative service. During the past 13 years, the service has helped locate almost 2,300 children. For parents: (800) 426-5678; for children: (800) I-AM-LOST.
For parents who have kidnapped their child -- or are thinking about kidnapping their child -- free mediation is offered by calling a confidential hot line run by Child Find : (800) 292-9688.