When you work with your child’s other parent or see a judge and receive your custody orders, those are enforceable by law. In most circumstances, you must abide by the agreement or orders as they are written. Of course, there might occasionally be a time when a last-minute change is necessary. When it’s not, though, not following the custody orders can be custodial interference. Read on to learn more about what custodial interference is and what the consequences might be.
What Is Custodial Interference?
Custodial interference occurs when the non-custodial parent keeps the child from the custodial parent. It can also happen when the custodial parent prevents the child from going to visitation with the non-custodial parent. When both parents share physical custody, it can happen when one parent does not give the child to the other parent for their designated custody time.
When the intent is to deprive the other parent of time with their child, custody interference is against the law. There are a few exceptions, but in general, you must adhere to the custody orders that were signed by the court.
What Is Not Custodial Interference?
Sometimes, it will be impossible or unsafe to return a child to the parent who has physical custody of them at the time. For example, if you cannot safely leave your home due to a blizzard or wildfires, then as long as you are in communication with the other parent, keeping the child inside with you until the threat passes would not generally be considered custodial interference. As always, the best interest of the child should be considered, and putting him or her in harm is not usually in their best interest.
Another example would be if your car breaks down or there is unexpected heavy traffic while you are en route to you bringing the child to his or her other parent and you are an hour late. You do need to make your best effort to deliver your child to your ex at the appointed time and you should plan extra time for traffic, but if there is a car accident or car trouble, then that cannot be helped. Talk to your child’s other parent to keep the lines of communication open.
The Legal Consequences of Custodial Interference
If you do not return your child to his or her other parent at the right time or on the right day, then you could be held in contempt of court. A judge might award the other parent more time to make up for the time missed.
In some states and in some circumstances, custodial interference is considered a misdemeanor, but in others (particularly if you take the child out of state or attempt to leave the country), it is considered a felony. In some cases, you might have your custody revoked or have to comply with supervised visitation only.
If you attempted to kidnap your child, then you could even be sentenced to jail time. The consequences of custodial interference can be severe, so it is in your best interest to stick to the parenting plan that you and your child’s other parent have both agreed to (or that a judge has ordered).
What If Your Child Is Unsafe With the Other Parent?
Sometimes, a parent will try to keep the child from his or her other parent because there is a concern about child neglect or even abuse. In this situation, it is important that you take the steps necessary to keep your child safe.
If you believe that your child has been abused, calling the police to file a report will help by creating documentation and also get the ball rolling with an evaluation from the Department of Child and Family Services or Child Protective Services in your state. You can also file a motion to the court asking for an emergency custody order.
If you are not granted this order before the child’s next scheduled visitation or when custody is supposed to revert back to the other parent, you should get in touch with a legal service to find out what your best recourse is. The answer will depend on the specific situation, so having good counsel will be your best bet.
A lawyer or a legal resource group can help. In most states, the fear of imminent danger to the child will be accepted as a reasonable defense, but this will differ depending on the situation. This is why it is best to talk to a legal expert before keeping your child from his or her other parent.
What If You Disagree With the Custody Order?
If you are the non-custodial parent and believe that you should have physical custody of the child, simply keeping the child past your visitation time is not a solution to the problem. If you are found guilty of custodial interference, then you could lose the visitation time that you already have with your son or daughter.
You can approach the court to ask for a custody modification, however. Most of the time, this won’t be considered unless circumstances have changed since the original orders were made. For example, were you staying in a studio apartment but now you have a house with a bedroom for your child?
Have your work hours changed so now you are more available to spend time with your child? Maybe you were living far away but now you have moved to be closer to where your child goes to school. All of these are reasons that you might consider asking for a custody modification.
Remember, your custody orders are required and enforceable by law. You cannot simply decide to keep your child longer or not return the child to his or her other parent when they have physical custody. Similarly, you cannot withhold visitation because you are upset with your ex, it’s inconvenient, or you are not receiving child support payments.
If you are concerned about your child’s safety or would like a custody modification, contact National Family Solutions. We can help you without the high fees that a private attorney would charge. A legal resource group can be your best bet when looking out for the best interest of your child.