Parental Kidnapping And Child Custody: Your Detailed Guide

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It’s something out of a parent’s worst nightmare: your child is gone and it turns out that your co-parent has betrayed your trust by running off with them beyond state lines. What recourse do you have? First things first, you’re not the first to experience this awful reality; there are precedents and laws in place that can likely help you. The lawyers at Youngblood Law, PLLC, have decades of experience addressing matters of family law, and they are here to let you know your options regarding instances of parental kidnapping. When it comes to protecting your family, you can count on us to have your back.

What Is Parental Kidnapping?

Parental kidnapping occurs when one parent, without the consent of the other, runs off with the child and attempts to prevent the other parent from accessing them. Often, parental kidnapping involves taking the child out of state or even, in some instances, out of the country.

There are a few factors relevant in determining whether a parent’s actions constitute parental kidnapping. These include marital status, the existence or non-existence of a custody agreement, and the specific circumstances that led the parent to take the child.

Married Vs. Unmarried

In most states, if the parents of the child are married and paternity is established, it is not illegal for your spouse to take your child and it is not technically considered kidnapping as custodial rights are considered equal. How this situation can be resolved is going to depend on the state. In this situation, you have a few options. There are a few parties you want to contact: the first is law enforcement, who will not be able to help much if you are not able to present them with the details of your custody agreement. However, you can potentially have a police report filed, particularly if you are able to convince them that the situation poses a danger to your child.

The next person you will want to contact is a family law attorney such as those at Youngblood Law. The police report will be helpful in getting the ball rolling on divorce and custody and will potentially help you get an emergency court order against your spouse.

If you are unmarried, parental kidnapping hinges on whether or not paternity is established and there is a custody agreement in place. Mothers are imbued with full parental rights once their child is born. Unmarried fathers must first establish paternity with a DNA test and then petition the court for custody rights. If there is no paternity or custody agreement in place and the father takes your child, it’s regular kidnapping and he can be charged. However, if the father has equal custodial rights over the father via a court order, he is potentially in violation of that custody agreement and is therefore potentially committing parental kidnapping.

Custody Agreement Vs. No Custody Agreement

When parents are divorced or in the process of separating is the most common time for a parent to kidnap a child. If there is a custody agreement in place and a co-parent takes the child in violation of the court order, they can be charged with parental kidnapping. If you are in the process of divorcing, you can request a temporary custody order which will outline a schedule for child custody and visitation. If you have an arrangement in place, temporary or not, and your ex is found in violation of it, the court will re-evaluate the established custody arrangement in your favor and your ex spouse might be charged criminally.

If there is no custody agreement in place and the parent has no rights over the child, it is kidnapping. If they are a parent imbued with equal custodial rights, see above.

Child Abuse Accusations

A parent might abscond with a child if they are concerned that their co-parent has subjected their child to abuse. This is a tough situation, because if you take a child in violation of a custodial court order, you could still be charged with kidnapping regardless of the actions of your co-parent. If you are concerned about abuse toward your child and you want them removed from a potentially violent situation, consult your lawyer and seek support from domestic violence shelters and other resources. If your child is in immediate danger, contact the police. By contacting your lawyer and cooperating with law enforcement, you might be able to obtain a temporary protective order that would give you temporary legal custody until a more long-term custody arrangement can be put in place.

Laws Concerning Parental Kidnapping

Under federal law, parental kidnapping is a punishable offense. There are three pertinent laws that provide for guidelines regarding the legality of parental kidnapping, and they are as follows:

  • Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA): This act “establishes national standards to determine jurisdiction in interstate custody disputes.” This law prioritizes the home state of the child and makes it so that parents cannot run off with a child to a state in which their child custody arrangement is not enforced or with the hope of settling in the new state for a more favorable custody arrangement. Under this act, states must recognize the already established child custody arrangement and cooperate with your efforts to have your child returned to their home state.
  • Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction And Enforcement Act (UCCJEA): As with PKPA, this law provides for cooperation among states in enforcing established child custody laws. This law helps support PKPA and establishes which state–the home state of the child–has jurisdiction over the child custody order.
  • International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA): Criminalizes the act of a parent absconding with a child internationally in order to curtail a custody order. It’s important to note that there are no provisions in the law for how to have your child returned to you.

Penalties For Parental Kidnapping

Though parental kidnapping is a federal crime, these crimes are charged under the state of Texas, so you will not be subject to federal kidnapping charges. Depending on the circumstances of the kidnapping, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. Potential consequences might include:

  • Up to two years in prison
  • Fine of up to $10,000
  • Up to three years in prison for international kidnapping
  • Losing custody rights
  • Restitution payments
  • Firearm ban
  • Deportation if you are an immigrant

Contact Youngblood Law For Family Law Guidance

Whether you are at the beginning stages of a custody arrangement, want to change a custody arrangement, or want to enforce a custody arrangement, the compassionate guidance of Youngblood Law, PLLC will ensure that the best interests of your children are put first. If you are dealing with a parental kidnapping situation, we will act quickly to ensure that the proper legal motions are taken to reunite you with your child. Call us right now for legal advice!

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