Some custody violations are a criminal offense
Parents often file petitions and motions in court charging each other with disobeying the court’s custody and visitation orders. Usually, these petitions take the form of a civil contempt petition. In such contempt petitions, one parent is charging the other one with violating the custody plan, and is seeking a court order imposing sanctions on the other parent, which may include additing parenting time, or suspension of visitation rights, or a monetary penalty.
For the really bad cases, there is another remedy.
Virtually all of the states have a criminal offense on the books — the crime of interfering with custody rights. Deliberate and willful noncompliance with a custody order could put a father or a mother in hot water with the law. For example, in the case of State vs. Munoz, a father of four became enraged by his ex-wife’s refusal to move back with him and to leave New Mexico for his new home in Arizona. When he caught her with another man, the father took three of the kids with him to Arizona and refused to return them until his ex-wife reconciled with him. Eventually he was arrested in Arizona, charged with the crime of custodial interference, and the children with returned to their mother.
In Connecticut, in the case of State vs. Vakilzaden, an Iranian man was charged with first-degree custodial interference, when he disappeared with the child at a shopping mall and assisted his nephew in abducting the nephew’s daughter and flee the country. Two one-way tickets to Istanbul, Turkey had been purchased in order to abscond with the child, but authorities eventually caught up with them and made the arrest.
Unlike contempt petitions in family court, a criminal charge for custodial interference triggers the criminal justice system. In other words, prosecutors and juries may be involved; fines and incarceration may be ordered. Many states, such as New Jersey, classify the offense as a more serious crime if the child is taken, detained, enticed or concealed outside the United States or for an extended period of time (more than 24 hours).
A party charged with custodial interference can defend himself, however, There are a number of defenses to this crime, which we will talk about in tomorrow’s blog.
Please feel free to share any experiences you may have.