Note: I struggled with deciding which Stackexchange site to post this question to--Law, World Building, Scifi, or Parenting--but hopefully it fits well enough here. I know it's not a perfect fit, but I hope users here will know more about the government and legal side of this question.

Also note, this is hypothetical, but I really am curious about the real-world ramifications.

Yesterday I watched "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" and at the end of the movie the main character, a teenage boy,

leaves his parents to join the "magic" society that he has become a part of. Presumably never to be seen again by his parents.

Something similar happens in other fantasy novels, but I can't remember them right now.

My question is this: If, in real life, a child of a family were to suddenly disappear, what legal or social ramifications would the parents have to deal with?

Would the parents have to fake the kids death?

Would the parents have to convince the school district that the kid is somewhere else or home-schooled?

Would they have to lie to the IRS?

I assume they'd have to have a good excuse for family, friends, and neighbors, but how foolproof would their excuse have to be? What if after 5 years, the neighbors get suspicious of the missing child and the police get involved?

Basically, I am curious if a kid could just disappear off the face of the earth without arousing suspicion from the government. (Even a few decades later--"We have records of your kid going to elementary school 10 years ago, but no death certificate, where is your kid, ma'am?"). And, if suspicion was aroused by neighbors, what would happen?

Let's assume the family lives in an urban area in the US.

  • 2
    "other fantasy novels"... like the Harry Potter stories. The parents or guardians of most if not all the students at Hogwart's must find it difficult to explain the disappearance of their charges. May 9, 2017 at 16:12
  • 4
    @AIBreveleri The parents would just tell the truth: "They're at boarding school" (with or without mentioning it's a magical school as appropriate).
    – TripeHound
    May 10, 2017 at 0:00

3 Answers 3


In some states there is a law know as Caylee's Law, for example Connecticut General Statutes 53-21a(d) which requires reporting a child's disappearance:

Any parent, guardian or person having custody or control, or providing supervision, of any child under the age of twelve years who knowingly fails to report the disappearance of such child to an appropriate law enforcement agency shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor. For the purposes of this subsection, “disappearance of such child” means that the parent, guardian or person does not know the location of the child and has not had contact with the child for a twenty-four-hour period.

Assume that they have done as the law requires, i.e. reporting the disappearance. It could be a crime for the parents to fake the kid's death, depending on what you did to "fake" the death. They might legally do things that could lead a person to think the child died; but telling the police, in the course of an investigation, that the child died in an accident, would be a crime.

The parents would not have to convince the school district of anything, though someone at the school might alert the authorities that the child was gone (but they would know that anyway). They might well have to convince the police of something (i.e. that they didn't kill the child). It would certainly be a felony to lie to the IRS (i.e. claim the child as a dependent). It would also be a crime to continue to receive welfare payments or other benefits based on the fact of having a child.


There would often be at least some sort of perfunctory investigation to see if there was actually a homicide or child abuse situation involved depending on the way that the case came to the attention of the officials. And, there would often be an abduction investigation in families where the child didn't live with either or both parents, when at least one non-custodial parent is still living.

An investigation is particularly likely in the case of younger school aged children. Missing older children (especially once they can drive and are sixteen years old so they can work) are taken less seriously than missing/runaway younger children. There is less official monitoring of pre-school children than there is of younger school aged children.


Children run away from home all the time. Missing children are a sad and tragic event. There are no legal ramifications for the parents other than their necessary involvement with the police as they search, often unsuccessfully.

  • 1
    After some time, wouldn't the missing person be legally presumed dead? Thatwworks have consequences for the parents.
    – phoog
    May 9, 2017 at 20:46

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