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Parental Kidnapping: Can You Kidnap Your Own Kid?

Some parents believe they have the right to do whatever they want with their children, even if the children’s other parent objects. However, parental rights are not unlimited can be restricted by court orders, including child custody orders. In fact, under certain circumstances, a person might even be guilty of “kidnapping” their own child. Continue reading to learn about parental kidnapping under New Jersey and federal law, and contact a knowledgeable Englewood child custody and parental rights attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.

Interference With Custody Under New Jersey Law

New Jersey law requires all parties to adhere to the terms of a child custody order. Interfering with another person’s parental rights, even if you are also a parent, is at best a violation of a court order, and at worst a criminal offense. According to N.J.S.A. 2C:13-4, a person, including a parent or guardian, is guilty of interference with custody if they take, detain, or otherwise conceal a minor and in so doing deprive the child’s other parent of custody or parenting time.

Detaining or concealing a child in violation of a child custody order is also covered, as is detaining or concealing a child in order to evade the jurisdiction of the New Jersey courts in anticipation of an order that will affect custody rights or the child’s protective services needs. The offense is more serious if the child is taken to another country. Violating the law, especially for over 24 hours or by taking the child internationally, can lead to heavy fines and jail time.

Federal Parental Kidnapping Law

Federal law also prohibits certain actions by parents. The International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA) criminalizes leaving the country with a child under the age of 16 with the intent of depriving a parent or guardian of their custody or parenting time. If anyone, including the child’s other parent, removes a child from the country or attempts to do so in order to interfere with custody rights, they can be arrested, fined, and sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Defenses to Parental Kidnapping: When It’s OK to Disobey a Custody Order

Under normal circumstances, you must adhere to the terms of your child custody order. Even if your actions do not rise to the level of parental kidnapping, you could still be found in contempt of court for violating a court order. Being held in contempt is punishable with fines, limitations on parental rights, and even jail time. There are, however, circumstances under which it’s defensible to disobey a court order.

Courts recognize that interfering with the other parent’s parenting time may be necessary due to emergencies involving domestic violence. If you are concerned that you or your child are at risk of harm from the other parent, you can escape to a safe space or keep the child away from their other parent. You must, however, contact either the local police, the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency, or the office of the district attorney in your county as soon as possible (within 24 hours) and let them know about the danger and your actions to protect your family. The IPKCA also includes an exception for fleeing from an incident or pattern of domestic violence.

Further, a parent may have a defense against a custody interference charge if the child is older than 14 years old and left under their own volition.

Seasoned Advice and Representation for Your New Jersey Child Custody Dispute

If you’re considering divorce in New Jersey or dealing with child support, child custody, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.