It is surprising to think that, in California, a parent can be arrested and criminally prosecuted for kidnapping his or her own child. This surprising truth became all too real for a Twin Falls woman who was charged with custodial interference in Idaho. In the recent case, Stefanie Contreras pleaded guilty to abducting her own 4-year-old son. Contreras entered the father’s home with three others intending to take her son from father’s custody. To follow up with Contreras’ case, stay tuned for her sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to occur on March 26, 2012. Few San Diego residents are aware that they can be found guilty of abduction for moving their own children outside of California. If you are considering taking your child outside of San Diego or California it is important to consult the other parent involved.
There are many misconceptions about what is required to charge an individual with kidnapping. A stranger to the child is not necessarily the only person who can kidnap a child. If a parent disobeys a custody or visitation arrangement he or she may be arrested for kidnapping. Whether the parent has sole legal custody, meaning the exclusive right to made decisions regarding the child’s health, safety, or wellbeing, is irrelevant. Under California law, if the parent takes, entices away, keeps, withholds, or conceals his or her own child intending to deprive the other parent of his or her lawful visitation or custodial rights, he or she can be prosecuted for kidnapping. It is important to note that a parent can be charged with kidnapping regardless of whether there is a formal court order regarding custody and visitation.
Although child custody and visitation orders originate in the family court system, kidnapping is a criminal charge and may result in a criminal record and/or incarceration. For example, under California Penal Code section 278, any person found guilty of kidnapping shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for up to a year, a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both. Sentences and fines may vary depending on whether the parent is prosecuted for a felony or misdemeanor.
A parent may present various defenses to a kidnapping charge. For example, the parent may defend against the charge by alleging the child was in immediate danger of physical or emotional harm. In order to be on the safe side, as soon as possible, the parent should file a request for custody within a reasonable time in the jurisdiction where the child resides including an explanation of the current dangerous situation and why the child should have been removed from the other parents custody. This formal request might save the parent from prosecution for kidnapping.
Please contact us if you would like to move out-of-state with your child or have questions regarding custody in general. San Diego Family Law Attorney Nancy J. Bickford is the only board-certified divorce lawyer in San Diego who also holds an MBA and a CPA. Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.