parental kidnapping
Legal / Justified / Illegal

Important Things to Know

Custody fights are not unusual in a divorce, and they are never pleasant. In rare and unfortunate cases, one parent may even resort to kidnapping his or her own children. Three main factors determine whether or not parental kidnapping has occurred: the legal status of the parent who has taken the children, the offending parent’s intent, and the existence of court orders regarding custody.

Withholding Visitation

In many states, it is considered parental kidnapping if you refuse to return a child after visitation or withhold visitation from your ex-spouse in violation of a court order. You cannot legally retain a child with the intent to conceal or detain the child from any other parent with custodial rights. Doing so is considered kidnapping. Most divorce lawyers are required to provide information in the event of parental kidnapping.

Keeping Children Away

It is not unusual for one parent to move out of the shared family house as the result of a family dispute. In this situation, one parent might prevent the other from seeing the kids, even if there is no custody or divorce order yet. In many states, keeping a child concealed or away from one parent is considered parental kidnapping.

Taking Kids Without Permission

If you and your spouse live apart but are still married, it is not illegal for either parent to take the children, provided there is no intent to override the other parent’s custodial rights. However, if there is a court order giving you full custody of the children and the other parent takes them without your consent, it is parental kidnapping and is punishable by imprisonment.

Parental kidnapping can take several forms, including taking the children without permission, refusing to let the spouse see his or her children and refusing to return the children to their home after visitation. Regardless of the form, kidnapping one’s own children is always illegal and punishable by law. Consequences of parental kidnapping vary by state and may include jail time, large fines, loss of visitation rights, or loss of custody.