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When You’ve Been Accused Of Kidnapping Your Own Child: What Parents Need to Know

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on May 13, 2020

When parents are in the middle of a particularly contentious custody battle, or there is a disagreement between separated parents about custody and visitation, tensions can escalate to the point where one parent decides to physically take their child without the permission of the other parent (often out of state) in order to prevent them from seeing the child.

However, what many parents do not realize in the heat of the moment is how serious this action is, as they can actually face criminal charges for parental kidnapping. While many parents may be surprised to learn this fact, there actually are situations in which a parent can be tried and convicted for kidnapping their own child. Whether you have been thinking about taking your child away from their other parent, or you are facing parental kidnapping charges, here is a quick look at what you need to know about parental kidnapping. 

What Constitutes Parental Kidnapping?

Parents are often confused about how they can possibly be charged with kidnapping or even child abduction if they are the child’s biological parent. However, if you and the child’s other parent are separated, or are currently going through a separation, you may be charged with parental kidnapping or abduction if:

  • You violate a custody order or agreement
  • You detain or conceal a child from their other parent
  • You refuse to return a child to their other parent after visitation has ended
  • You left with the child without consent of the other parent

Even though you are the child’s biological parent or legal guardian, in co-parenting situations certain protocols must be followed. If you try to deprive the other parent of their visitation rights, and/or you attempt to take the child out of the state or country without the permission of the other parent, then you may be accused of parental abduction or kidnapping.  

The Charges You May Face

After learning about parental kidnapping, you may be wondering what charges you could face if you are accused of this crime. Ultimately, the charges you face will depend on a number of factors including the state you live in and whether you are charged with abduction or kidnapping. While abduction and kidnapping are similar and often confused, there are a few key differences between the two. Usually, for a charge of kidnapping to be made, the accused must have moved the child a substantial distance by use of force or threats.

In California, parental child abduction can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. For misdemeanor child abduction, you can face up to a year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. If you are convicted of a felony, you face up to two, three, or four years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. If you are convicted of kidnapping, you face three, five, or eight years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. In addition to these penalties, you may also find that your custody/visitation rights are changed or revoked as a result of your actions if convicted.

Steps That You Can Take to Avoid Kidnapping Accusations

What can you do to avoid being accused of parental kidnapping? Ultimately, in order to avoid fighting a parental kidnapping accusation, it is important that you try to maintain peace with your child’s other parent, and that you follow your parenting plan or custody agreement rigidly. Do not give your child’s other parent a reason to try to accuse you of parental kidnapping. This means that you should also be extremely careful when traveling with your child out of state. Make sure that you get permission from their other parent before leaving the state, and you may even want to consider getting this permission in writing if you fear retaliation.   

What Should I do If I’ve Been Accused of Parental Kidnapping?

Considering the seriousness of a parental kidnapping accusation, and the potential charges that can come with this accusation, it is important that you know your rights as a parent and are able to defend yourself against the accusations made against you if you are being accused of parental kidnapping. For instance, you may be able to argue that you didn’t actually violate your custody agreement, particularly if there are conflicting testimonies about the allegations laid against you. Additionally, your actions may be defensible if you believed that the child was in danger and/or you were fleeing domestic violence. 

However, fighting parental kidnapping charges can be complex, which is why it is critical that you consult a skilled criminal defense attorney if you have been accused of parental kidnapping. Our attorneys at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP can walk you through this difficult time and use their experience to help you build the strongest possible defense against the charges you are facing. Contact us at (213) 688-0460 to learn more about what you should do if you are facing parental kidnapping charges. 

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Posted in: Criminal Defense