Many parents don't realize that they can be arrested and charged with kidnapping their own child. However, the law in California is very clear: If you withhold a child from his or her lawful custodian or legal guardian, that's a crime -- even if you are the child's biological parent. This is usually referred to as a "parental abduction."
It's also a crime to intentionally deprive the child's other parent of shared custody or visitation when he or she is entitled to it. This is usually known as "interference with child custody."
That's why a California woman has been sentenced to six months behind bars and a following five years of probation for parental kidnapping after fleeing the state with her 11-year-old son.
While the mother originally shared custody of her son with her ex-husband, she failed to return the child to his father after her visitation time. After moving to several different places in California, she eventually fled first to Kentucky and then to New Jersey. She was eventually arrested with help from the U.S. Marshals Service's Child Abduction Task Force.
It's important to understand that even though the mother had shared custody and visitation rights with her son, intentionally failing to turn him back over to his father when her time was up put her at odds with the law and moving the child out of state made the situation even worse.
This is absolutely the worst possible way to handle a custody dispute -- the parent who has been deprived of custody and visitation can request sole custody while you are absent and will probably receive it. Not only does the parent/abductor usually end up in jail, but he or she usually loses all rights to future custody and visitation. If visitation is granted again, it is likely to be only under the strictest possible conditions.
In California, that can mean having to pay for a professional provider of supervised visitation and meeting only in a place designated as appropriate by the court. In addition to the highly restrictive atmosphere, you generally have to pay the cost of the supervision.
If you're dealing with a custody issue, don't attempt to resolve the issue yourself by going on the run with your child. Instead, consider seeking out the services of an attorney who can help you handle matters legally.
Source: The Sacramento Bee, "Mother who kidnapped 11-year-old son and fled state is sentenced to jail," Nashelly Chavez, Jan. 04, 2017