In contentious child custody cases, it’s not uncommon for one parent to withhold (or attempt to withhold) a child from the other parent. Perhaps they are behind on child support, or picked up the child up late, or maybe the child just “doesn’t want to go” with the other parent.
Whatever the case may be, interference with child custody in Texas is not just a family or civil matter. It’s a crime. In fact, it’s a felony to take or keep your child against visitation or custody orders.
What is interference with child custody in Texas?
Under Texas Penal Code 25.03, a person interferes with child custody when he or she takes or keeps a child under age 18:
- when they know it violates the terms of a judgment, a court order, or a temporary order;
- when the individual has not been awarded custody of the child by a court of jurisdiction and knows that a divorce or lawsuit has been filed regarding child custody and takes the child out of the geographical area or out of the county without the court’s permission;
- when they take the child out of the U.S. to deprive the other parent possession or access to the child without the other parent’s permission;
- when the non-custodial parent persuades the child to leave the custody of the other parent.
What it the punishment for interference with child custody?
In Texas, interference with child custody is a state jail felony punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.
Are there defenses to the charge of interference with child custody?
Yes. There are primarily three defenses to this charge which may allow the defendant to avoid or mitigate the legal consequences for the offense including:
- If the parent returned the child to the geographical area of the court’s jurisdiction within three days of the commission of the offense.
- If taking and possessing the child was pursuant to a valid court order, which allowed possession and access to the child.
- If the actor can prove that retaining the child was due to circumstances beyond their control, such as a flight being delayed, bad weather or a lack of transportation. In the case of an unexpected delay, the parent must have provided notice or made reasonable attempts to provide notice to the other parent, explaining the circumstances that led to the retention of the child.
Is interference with child custody a common charge?
Many police departments view this as a civil matter and may be reluctant to make arrests and file cases against feuding parents. The matter is sometimes instead handled by the family court where the child custody order is in place. In this case, the parent accused of interference with child custody, as well as the parent alleging the misconduct, should contact a family law attorney.
What are some examples of interference with child custody?
Interestingly, it’s not just parents who are charged with interference with child custody. Grandparents or other family members and friends are sometimes charged with this offense if they attempt to keep or fail to return a child in violation of a court order. It’s also not uncommon for parents to be charged with interference with child custody when Child Protective Services is attempting to remove a child from a home or have a supervision plan in place. Here’s a look at some real examples of people arrested for interfering with child custody:
- The custodial grandparents of a 3-year-old child were arrested in 2016 on a charge of interference with child custody in Bowie County after police said they prevented him from seeing his child for nearly three months. The grandparents and the child’s mother had been ordered to meet the child’s father at the New Boston Police Department for court-ordered visitation but never arrived. An Amber Alert and arrest warrants were issued and the grandparents were tracked down in Dallas and taken into custody.
- A Belton mother was charged with interference with child custody in 2016 after she failed to return her child to the custodial father after summer visitation. The woman had apparently given the wrong address in a divorce agreement, making it initially difficult to locate the mother and child. It was the first case of its kind prosecuted in Bell County.
- A Dickinson man was charged with interference with child custody in 2015 after he violated a court order and took his 10-year-old son away from his mother. After the boy’s mother reported him missing, police found the boy with extended family in another city.
- State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez was indicted in 2012 on a charge of interference with child custody after his ex-wife made numerous complaints about noncompliance with visitation rights. Martinez, who has custody of his young son, was accused of not allowing his ex-wife visitation on dates assigned by the court.
- A mother of four was charged with interfering with child custody in Lubbock County in 2018 after she refused to return her children to state custody after violating the terms of an agreement with Child Protective Services. CPS took custody of the children in 2016 after the mother was arrested for allegedly stabbing her boyfriend. The case was dismissed and CPS returned the children on the condition she have no contact with the boyfriend. According to officials, the mother continued to see the boyfriend and fled with her children when CPS attempted to again take custody. The mother, the boyfriend and the children were later found at a home in a Dallas suburb.
Interference with child custody can have serious consequences. Not only is it a crime, but family courts could punish the offender by modifying a court order and restricting access to the child.
If someone is interfering with the custody of your child or if you want enforce or modify a visitation or child custody order, the attorneys at VS Family Law Group can help. Call 817-900-3220 for a free consultation with a family law attorney today.
If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge stemming from a child custody dispute, the criminal defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett PLLC can provide exceptional legal representation.
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