In certain high conflict situations, failure to comply with the terms of a court-ordered parenting plan can be very serious—serious enough, in fact, to amount to parental kidnapping or other criminal conduct. There are several levels of interference with child custody or parenting time that can constitute criminal acts in New Jersey. At the most basic level, failure to comply with a court-ordered parenting or visitation plan can be grounds for contempt of court. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9, this is a fourth degree crime and is potentially punishable by a term of up to 18 months in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.00.
If a parent (or any other person) deprives the other parent of custody or parenting time by detaining, enticing, concealing or actively taking a child (considered kidnapping), N.J.S.A. 2C:13-4 provides for more severe consequences. Interference with custody is considered a third degree crime, punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 and three to five years in prison—without the presumption against imprisonment usually applicable to third degree offenses.
This statute may come into play even before parents have court orders addressing custody, provided that the person interfering with custody or parenting time has knowledge that there is a court action in progress affecting child custody, marriage (such as divorce or annulment), or protective service needs of the child.
International Child Custody Disputes
Taking, detaining, enticing or concealing a child outside of the United States or for more than 24 hours is a second degree crime under N.J.S.A. 2C:13-4, punishable by a fine of up to $150,000 and five to 10 years in prison. Removing a child from the United States or retaining a child outside of the United States with the intent to obstruct the other parent’s parental rights is also a federal felony under the International Parental Kidnapping Act.
Defenses to Custody Interference
When custody situations arise, the Courts do recognize that in some cases, interfering with the other parent’s custody or parenting time is necessary due to an emergency involving domestic violence. If you are attempting to escape from the other parent’s imminent violence, or if you believe that your child is in imminent danger from the other parent, you may have a defense to charges of interference, but you must contact the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), the local police, or the district attorney’s office in your child’s county of primary residence and reveal the child’s location to one of these authorities as soon as possible (and always within 24 hours, unless you already have custodial rights). A parent who already has custodial rights and is fleeing from the imminent threat of physical danger must still contact the authorities as soon as reasonably possible, or alternatively, can bring a custody action in an appropriate court as soon as reasonably possible.
Parenting Time Interference & Child Support Enforcement
Failure to receive timely child support payments does not give a parent the right to interfere with the parenting time of the non-paying parent. New Jersey courts consider child support and parenting time to be separate matters, and there are other avenues available for pursuing recovery of late or absent child support payments.
Kidnapping of a Child is a Serious Offense
Kidnapping is illegal, even when the perpetrator is a parent to the child. In the United States, children are most often kidnapped by a parent, often during the fallout of a high conflict custody situation. If your child is in imminent danger, call the police. If you have any doubt regarding whether or not your situation may subject either you or the other parent to criminal prosecution for interference with child custody or parenting time, contact a New Jersey family law attorney for more information.
You can safeguard your children. To discuss your custody situation with one of our highly skilled family law attorneys, contact us to request an initial confidential consultation. Take the first step. Call us today: (888) 888-0919.