Violating a child custody order might not seem like a serious crim.  After all, your children were happy to go with you, and you only wanted to spend time with them. Unfortunately for noncustodial parents in California, parental kidnapping is a serious criminal offense.

A conviction for parental kidnapping could result in years in prison. Parental kidnapping with international travel falls under federal law. Understanding the international travel laws in parental abduction cases could help you avoid significant legal trouble.

What qualifies as international parental abduction

It surprises many parents to discover the federal definition of international travel does not refer only to entering another country, but simply exiting the United States as well. This means that even taking a cruise out of California could constitute international parental abduction, as long as the ship is at least one mile from shore.

You could face arrest and prosecution for international parental kidnapping if you take your children anywhere outside the U.S. as the noncustodial parent without your ex-spouse’s agreeing to the arrangement or a custody order allowing the travel.

Penalties for international parental kidnapping

If you believe you might face charges for international parental abduction, work with a criminal defense lawyer to protect your future. The maximum sentence for this crime under 18 United States Code section 1204 is three years imprisonment and/or fines. Imprisonment could cost you your job, separate you from your children and cause many other negative repercussions on your life.

Potential defenses to an international parental kidnapping charge include fleeing domestic violence, acting within the terms of a valid custody order or failing to abide by the terms of the order due to circumstances beyond your control. An experienced attorney can work with you to personalize a defense strategy for your particular circumstances.