Child custody lawyers and the court work hard at working out agreements that are in the best interest of the child or children, and that allow the parents to co-parent effectively. But sometimes, things don’t work out that way.
When the non-custodial parent doesn’t agree with the arrangement and takes the child or doesn’t bring them back as agreed, it’s considered parental kidnapping. And that is a crime in Texas. In fact, it’s a felony that can be punished with up to two years in jail and with fines up to $10,000.
And the penalties can be even higher, for example if the child is held for ransom or there is child abuse. The same is true if the parent used a deadly weapon. Clearly, parental kidnapping is a serious matter. And it happens more often than we realize.
However, before calling in the police, try to talk to the other parent first to see if you can resolve the situation in a more amicable manner. If you can find out what brings on the impulse to refuse to bring back the child, you may be able to discover where the sticking point is and try to get your lawyer to make an adjustment in the parenting plan. You could also point them to useful resources, such as the Handbook for non-custodial parents, published by the Texas Attorney General.
Of course, if the non-custodial parent continues to refuse to cooperate, you should talk to your child custody attorney to make changes to the parenting agreement and limit the other parents visitation rights.
On the other hand, if you find that your co-parent took your child out of the country, you should know that there are legal tools that you can use to get your child back as well.
What to Do If the Non-Custodial Parent Takes the Child?
First of all, what may look like parental kidnapping only qualifies as such if the child is under 18 and the kidnapping parent is aware of the following three conditions:
- An action has been filed by a parent or a custody attorney or there’s a pending custody case
- Taking the child violates an existing custody order
- The parent committing the kidnapping was not awarded custody
What the parent should do instead of kidnapping their child is to go to their custody attorney for help with renegotiating the terms of the custody.
In the meantime, what should you do if you are afraid that your non-custodial co-parent might actually kidnap your child? Or worse, if your co-parent has already kidnapped your child? Either way, you should contact an experienced child custody attorney right away.
If the child is already missing, you should also contact the police. In addition, call any missing children networks to let them know so they can help find your child.
There are a number of special circumstances where there are somewhat different rules.
For example, if you are still married and there is no court order regarding custody, then the other parent could take the child from your home legally. It would not be considered kidnapping and it would not be a crime.
However, if you are concerned that your spouse might take your child out of the country, be sure to contact your child custody lawyer right away. Your lawyer can help you with protecting your child and handle the kind of paperwork that will stop your spouse from taking your child.
What If a Child Runs Away?
Perhaps your child hasn’t been kidnapped at all and instead has run away to the non-custodial parent on his or her own. While the court order is in place, both parents must follow its rules, and so they should both report the situation to the authorities. If necessary, you should try to get the court order legally modified to allow for your child’s preferences. However, until that has been done, you must still follow the old rules or you may face charges.
If abuse is involved or even just suspected, the situation becomes more complicated. In that case, you should talk to your child custody attorney about pursuing an emergency modification of the court order. You should also consider calling the Texas abuse hotline.
But there may not be any abuse. Children have been known to run away from home for any number of reasons, including the following:
- They miss their old friends
- They miss their old school
- They want to be with the parent if the same sex
- They want to get away from the custodial parent’s rules
If you realize that your child is not happy living with the current custodial parent and you would like to change the court order, you can petition for the change.
Then again, in some cases, the children have been running away in the other direction, i.e., from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. You should know that this too violates the court order. If that should happen, call your lawyer immediately to get help.
Also, find out what’s going on at the home of the non-custodial parent that makes your child want to run away. Perhaps there is abuse, or they’re not getting enough food, or their parent is rarely home or engaging with them.
How to Get Help
As you can see, child custody arrangements, especially with a less than cooperative non-custodial co-parent, can be a complex and challenging issue with many instances where you would benefit from or even urgently need legal help. So look for an experienced child custody lawyer as soon as possible. Call or email us for a free consultation. We’ll be happy to talk with you.