What is custodial interference and its associated legal consequences

Custodial rights are put into place for children following a parental separation. These custody rights define the legal place where the children reside, the meeting days, and the duration for non-custodial parents. When a parent with no custodial grant causes disruption in the legal custody rights it is referred to as custodial interference.

However, if these custody rights for both parents are legally enforced, the interfering parent can face harsh legal consequences.

What is custodial interference by definition?

In order to know what custodial interference is, you must identify the custodial rights for a child. When a separation or divorce is filed in the family court, parents have to go through courts to make custodial arrangements for their child. Following the case, the court may grant the custody rights to the parent who they find is better for their well-being. All and all, a child’s better care and protection is the core focus of a court decision.

However, every child custody case and situations are unique, but when one parent is given the sole legal custody, the parent will be called the custodial parent. The responsibilities and rights of the custodial parent towards the child are wide open. They generally include; looking after the child’s needs (physical and health), providing sufficient education, providing shelter and food, seeking areas to improve well being, spending more time with the child, and are eligible to perform different activities with the child for which they do not need court’s permission or written agreement.

On the other hand, the parent with partial custody is allowed to have specific visitation rights. In contrast, if the case involves chances of domestic abuse, the other parent may not have any right at all.

Types of custodial interferences

associated legal consequences
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Custodial interference has several types. Any attached disruption from the custody agreement though it happened from the partial custodial parent or any relative or person, the court will consider it as a breach of legal contractual rights of a child.

Contrary to people’s belief, it is too common to happen between strong custodial battles that parents opt for desperate measures to get a look at their child/children. However, the common types of custodial interference include:

  • After a planned visitation, the parent fails to return the child at the assigned time or place
  • Showing intentions for unplanned visitations and at unapproved times
  • Taking the child from the school or other parent’s home without permission
  • Preventing child/children from taking or contacting the other parent
  • Speaking abusively to the other parent in front of the child to make them feel they are not safe with them
  • Denying the visitation rights
  • If the child is with foster parents, visiting during other parent’s visitation time is also a custodial interference

Parents often do not comprehend the adverse effects of these situations on the mental and emotional health of a child. The court even obligates both parents to observe court orders if their child remains happy by the time of their visitation. They have to maintain the duration order they are given and comply with it. There can be legal consequences if they do not. In addition, any deviation from the legal agreement would be considered a custodial interference.

Furthermore, in many situations where a parent interferes in court orders if there’s custodial interference, it is not always illegal or a breach of the agreement. But there should be strong reasons such as if a parent intentionally violates the legal obligation in order to prevent the child from getting hurt or similar reasons. For instance, if a parent has a planned visitation at a certain time or place but the child refuses to attend the meeting. If a parent does not take the child to meet the other parent, there would not be any legal repercussions.

 In any custodial interference case, defense attorneys accept this common defense against imminent harm.

How is relative interference different from parental interference?

The United States has a large number of confirmed child abuse cases whereas Massachusetts had the highest amount of abuse and neglect cases in 2007-2009. In order to prevent the intensive measures of child abuse, the Massachusetts government applies harsh penalties for those who engage themselves in such attempts.

Massachusetts General Laws c. 265, § 26A, explains that anyone who entices a child to stay away from their custodial parents, intends to keep a child for a protracted period without lawful consent, or entices or takes a child to an incompetent person or leave the child at a person/institution who does not have the legal authority to keep them, are subjected to have;

  • Incarcerations in the house of correction for at least one year and/or
  • A fine of minimum $1000

In Massachusetts, to press the charges on a defendant as custodial interference by a relative, prosecution needs to prove a total of five things. First, the prosecution has to prove that the person involved in such activities was a relative of a child. Second, the child in question must be under 18 years of age when the alleged attempt was made. Third, they have to prove with reasonable evidence the defendant/relative deliberately held the child unlawfully or enticed the child from his/her custodial parents. Fourth, they have to show that the person did not have the legal consent for the alleged activity. Fifth, they have to show that the defendant took the child outside the permissible jurisdiction or a place that could pose the risk to the child’s safety.

What are associated penalties for custodial interference?

With the ever-increasing rate of child abuse in the United States where an abuse case is reported after every 10 seconds, the country has put harsh penalties in place to prevent such incidents. In Washington state, the custodial interference charge of first-degree is taken as a class-C felony. A defendant would be penalized with a gross misdemeanor if he is convicted of a second-degree charge for the first time against the offense. Where second execution of the same offense can lead to a class C felony charge which is punishable by five years of jail time along with a fine of $10,000.

 A gross misdemeanor carries an imprisonment charge of up to one year with a fine of $5,000. In contrast, other than these crimes, if the allegation contains a first-degree kidnapping charge, it will be considered a Class A felony. A second-degree kidnapping charge carries a Class B felony. A first-time offender will have a conviction of 10 years in jail and/or with a fine of $20,000 whereas the second offense will lead a convict to a 20 year prison time with a $50,000 fine.

Possible defenses against custodial interference

State statutes define custodial interference differently than each other so their penalties and defenses. In some states, the alleged can use good faith and certain excuses in his own defense while in some child abuse comes into play as a defense. On providing valid claims and evidence, the state courts often support the case. However, if a parent has lawful time to meet their children, they may take it as their defense.

Some statutes accept excuses of a child’s illness as the defense for violating the visitation agreement. But in some, these situations are considered custodial interference because the partial custody parent does not have the right to interfere in court’s decisions.

What to do after a custodial interference charge?

Once you have a custodial interference charge, keep your personal grudges aside and talk to your ex-partner. Stay calm without recalling old incidents keeping in mind that your child’s well-being would be at stake. The court will only see what is better for your child’s future and verdict the same.

If this doesn’t work, talk to a defense attorney keep everything in place, and defend your rights.

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