Parents in California who have a child together but are no longer in a relationship with the other parent will usually have a child custody and visitation order in place. However, one parent may, for a variety of reasons, refuse to turn over the child to the other parent as required by their child custody order.

Some parents may even try to hide their child from the child’s other parent or abscond with the child to another city, county or state in order to prevent the child’s other parent from exercising his/her legal rights to the child. However, doing so is not just wrong on a moral level; it is also a criminal offense.

When do child custody disputes become criminal offenses?

Under California law, it is illegal for a person to entice a child away, keep a child away, conceal a child or withhold a child in a manner that maliciously deprives a custodial parent or a parent with visitation rights of the legal right to time with the child. People often associate child abduction with strangers, but in this circumstance, a parent who absconds with his/her child is also guilty of such a crime.

The penalties for child abduction are serious: They include imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $1,000, or even imprisonment for 16 months to two or three years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Seek help if you are accused of abducting your child

Some people think child custody disputes are simply personal matters between two parents. However, absconding with a child or otherwise depriving a parent of the legal right to time with the child is a criminal offense with serious penalties. Those who are facing such a charge should seek the advice of an experienced attorney to understand their situation and what defenses may be available.