Custody disputes over a minor child are one of the most emotionally intense legal battles known to the practice of family law. Unfortunately, the acrimony and desperation between parents can devolve into extreme measures, such as kidnapping.
When a parent abducts or hides their child to interfere with the other parent’s custody rights, it is generally considered to be parental kidnapping. The child’s interests and rights are not necessarily at risk in familial kidnapping situations. In fact, many children believe that they are merely enjoying more quality time with one of their parents.
However, the rights of the child’s lawful custodian are the primary concernin parental kidnapping cases. Such situations ultimately prove disruptive for a child, leading to unexpected consequences regarding their healthy emotional development.
Child Custody Enforcement in Family Law
One of the most important mechanisms for enforcing child custody orders across state lines is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which establishes legal standards for determining complex jurisdictional issues that arise when custody disputes span different states. The UCCJEA also provides courts with the legal means to enforce custody orders issued by the courts of another state, to help protect against child abductions by parents.
The UCCJEA is an update to its predecessor, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA). Nearly all 50 states have adopted the UCCJEA—Massachusetts still uses the old UCCJA, but their legislature introduced bills earlier this year to adopt the UCCJEA. As a result, virtually all states recognize the continuing jurisdiction of other states regarding child custody matters.
States are empowered to grant any kind of legal relief available under its laws regarding the enforcement of court-ordered custody arrangements. The custody orders issued by a sister state are enforceable as if the order was effectuated in the state where enforcement is sought, provided that such orders are registered appropriately.
Therefore, parents who attempt to evade the legal effect of a custody order issued by a state court by absconding with their child to another state’s jurisdiction will be confronted with the full force of the law in any state to which they intended on fleeing.
Criminal Charges for Parental Kidnapping
Because a child custody arrangement comes in the form of a court order, violation of a custody arrangement can be grounds for contempt of court. To vindicate its legal authority, courts are empowered to hold persons who their orders in “contempt of court.”
The contemnor can be fined and even incarcerated if a judge finds them in contempt of court. The court may craft a contempt order to coerce compliance by imprisoning the violator until they agree to respect the terms of a custody order.
Many states prohibit parental kidnapping as a criminal offense. For example, Maryland Code § 9-305 prohibits parents from abducting, detain, harbor or hide a child in another state with the intent of depriving the other parent of lawful custody. Furthermore, Virginia Code § 18.2-49.1 classifies parental abduction of child from the borders of the state as a Class 6 felony that is punishable by 1 to 5 years imprisonment and a $2,500 fine.
Clearly, courts consider problems of parental kidnapping to be very serious. As a result, divorced or separated parents of a minor child must take care to do their best to comply with the terms of a court-ordered custody arrangement. The ramifications of custody enforcement laws are not limited to malicious acts of parental kidnapping. A disorganized parent who has demonstrated a pattern of chronic lateness and an apparent disregard for the terms of a custody or visitation plan may find themselves subject to custody enforcement proceedings, including contempt of court.
Looking for Legal Counsel? Contact DiPietro Law Group, PLLC
Child custody is a significant legal issue that arises in divorces and as an independent legal matter. To ensure your parental rights and properly respected, you should get comprehensive legal representation from an attorney at DiPietro Law Group, PLLC. We are here to preserve your legal rights and interests in custody proceedings and other family law disputes.
Call us at (888) 530-4374 or contact us online for an initial consultation discovering your legal rights today. We have offices in Maryland and Virginia, conveniently located for families in need of quality legal advice.