Parental Kidnapping / by Cassandra Hearn

Every parent’s worst nightmare is to lose a child. Even a few minutes of losing sight of your child in a crowded place can cause any parent’s heart to skip several beats. When it is the other parent who poses a threat to the child, especially through taking a child and refusing to return the child, it can present special complications and issues.

The definition of kidnapping in a family situation is when a person "takes, entices away, withholds, or conceals a child in violation of a custody or visitation order."  From the plain language of this statute, it is clear that the first inquiry is whether a custody order already exists. Accordingly, if a parent keeps a child away from the other parent in violation of a custody order, it can clearly cross the line from a contempt case to kidnapping. If a parent kidnaps his or her own child, the District Attorney’s Office for Child Abduction will be involved. The district attorney's office may choose to pursue parental kidnapping charges against the violating parent, which is a felony. The punishment for parental kidnapping is four years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. Keep in mind that a child does not have to be taken out of the county or out of the state in order for the parent’s behavior to constitute kidnapping.

An important exception to this law does exist. If the parent acting in violation of the order has a good faith belief that keeping the child away from the other parent is necessary to protect the child from a danger of imminent harm from the other parent, it may be justifiable to keep the child. In order to qualify for this exception, the parent keeping the child must immediately contact the District Attorney’s Office. The office will give very specific instructions to the parent. Failure to follow these to the letter could result in criminal charges.

In the event that your child is abducted by the other parent or another family member, you should immediately report this to the police. It will be helpful to provide copies of your current child custody order. This will assist law enforcement to determine the severity of the situation and what should be done next.

The prospect of family kidnapping is scary, but we are here to answer your questions. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 to talk about your child and your options.