If you share child custody with your child’s other parent or you do not have custody and you leave the state or country with the child, your actions may constitute parental kidnapping in California. California residents who are fighting for custody of their child should be aware of the state laws and penalties about parental kidnapping.

Definition of parental kidnapping

California may charge a parent with kidnapping if he or she:

  • Does not have sole physical or legal custody and moves without notifying the other parent
  • Withholds the child for an extended period during a time when the other parent has scheduled custody or visitation
  • Does not have physical or legal custody and takes the child without permission of the custodial parent or guardian

Consequences of custody-related abduction

California courts can charge child abduction as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case. Even if you suffer a misdemeanor conviction, however, the consequences of abducting your own child are quite severe and may include the following:

  • Loss of parental rights to custody and visitation
  • Loss of immigration status
  • Up to one year in jail
  • Fines of up to $1,000
  • Court-ordered counseling
  • Court-ordered probation
  • A protective order restricting contact with your child and/or the other parent

If the child’s other parent accuses you of child abduction, you must protect your legal rights to avoid a serious conviction and loss of contact with your child. He or she may be making a false accusation, or you may have made an honest mistake about whether you had the right to travel with your child. Other defenses are that you were legally entitled to custody during the time in question or that you acted to protect your child from harm.