When things are heated between partners or spouses, or when a parent believes his/her child is in danger by the other custodial parent, “kidnapping,” may feel like the only option. In most cases, the courts consider “kidnapping” to require force or a threat. If one parent removes the child from the region, state, or country without the other parent’s consent, and with the intention of keeping the child away from the other custodial parent, the courts consider it “parental abduction” or “parental kidnapping.”
We cannot tell you enough how important it is to avoid violating the child custody agreement in any way. If you are found guilty of kidnapping, it can be the very worst thing you could ever do to your child because it prevents your ability to protect his/her well-being in a lawful way.
If you are concerned about your child’s wellbeing and have even considered physically removing your child without the other parent’s awareness, consult with a family law specialist immediately so we can begin helping you navigate this very stressful and complicated situation.
How The Courts Define Parental Kidnapping
The courts may find a parent guilty of parental kidnapping or abduction if:
- You violate a child custody order or agreement and it appears that it is intentionally done to keep the child and other custodial parent away from one another
- You hide or contain a child away from the other parent
- A refusal to return the child to the other parent at the end of your stated visitation time
- You left with the child without the other parent’s consent (while you can take them within the same state during your stated visitation time, you can never take a child across state lines or out of the country without a written agreement from the other parent or legal guardian).
Seeking Legal Permission to Take a Child out of State or Country
You must always seek legal permission to take a child out of the state or the country – even if there is a verbal agreement between both custodial parents. This is as simple as completing a detailed letter that outlines the plan, travel dates, flight numbers, etc., and that is signed by the other custodial parent or guardian. You must also have the document notarized.
In addition to protecting you from potential child abduction charges, these letters may be necessary for officials in other states or countries to prove your child has permission to leave the region, state, or country.
Visit the Family Travel Forum’s page on travel consent letters to learn more.
An Emergency Child Custody Order can Protect You from Kidnapping Charges
In most cases, parents facing child abduction charges are doing so because they feel their child’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing are at risk in the other parent’s custody. This is 100% understandable.
Fortunately, the courts have created Emergency Child Custody Orders. These orders are handled expediently through the court system and can protect you from facing or being charged with parent/child kidnapping or abduction charges.
Read our post, How and When to Obtain an Emergency Child Custody Order, to learn more about how to pursue that option. The post also includes hyperlinks to CA.gov family law pages to help you get to the forms you need.
Abduction of a Child by a Parent is a Misdemeanor or Felony
Depending on the case, California courts typically charge parent abduction of a child as a misdemeanor or felony. Fines can range from $1000 to $10,000 dollars and can have a minimum of one year of jail time.
The severity of the charges and penalties depend on three key factors:
The legal status of the offending parent
Your prior criminal history as well as any current charges, probation, or warrants can affect the judge’s viewpoint.
Existing court-ordered child custody agreement(s)
If you are in violation of the most current, legal child custody order, it’s a problem. This is why it is so important that you file a temporary Emergency Child Custody Order, which shows the court you are doing your best to proceed through the legal channels while also prioritizing the wellbeing of your child.
The intent of the offender (you, as the abductor)
If you have a solid cause to back up why you are keeping the child away from the other parent, and there is substantial proof, the court may be more lenient.
As you can imagine, spending time in jail only makes matters worse for your child who may be handed over to the other parent with full custody or to the foster system as the courts decide what is in the child’s best interest.
Are you currently in a position where you are considering parental kidnapping or abduction to protect your child? Please contact me here at The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone. I will do everything I can to expedite your temporary emergency custody order and provide sound legal counsel to help you determine the next safest steps.