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Is it “Kidnapping” if It’s Your Own Child?

man carrying child

Parents have a great deal of autonomy when it comes to how and where they raise their children. That said, it is possible to “kidnap” your own child in New Jersey - namely if your actions are in violation of a child custody order. Even if you are not charged with felony kidnapping, you could still stand accused of custodial interference, as outlined in N.J.S.A. 2C:13-4.

Aside from potential criminal consequences, parental kidnapping can have major repercussions in a child custody or divorce proceeding. Judges tend to be harsh with parents who intentionally and brazenly violate custody orders. Keeping your child from your ex in violation of his/her rights could mean you lose your own custody rights and parenting time altogether.

If you fear your child may be endangered by your spouse or co-parent, your legal remedies include contacting law enforcement and/or working with a New Jersey family law attorney to secure an emergency restraining order.

Parental Abduction Laws in New Jersey

For every child who is abducted by a stranger, there are four times as many taken by a family member. In years past, this was viewed by the Courts as a private issue, to be dealt with by family members. That began shifting about 50 years ago. New Jersey and many other states passed legislation treating family abductions as crimes. The parents whose child had been taken finally had the support and resources of law enforcement, rather than pursuing private investigations or being forced to give up.

Amber alerts, established in the mid-1990s, have been another useful tool in child abduction cases where there may be imminent danger. It’s a media alert method that allows police to quickly disseminate information to the public to BOLO (be on the lookout) and collect tips.

In New Jersey, the statute on kidnapping treats parents the same as it does strangers. N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1 says kidnapping can be defined as permanently depriving a parent, guardian, or other lawful custodian of custody of the victim. Per N.J.S.A. 23:43-6, a conviction can result in a maximum sentence somewhere between 15 and 30 years in prison.

But even if you avoid a kidnapping charge, you might still face allegations of custodial interference. This is the more likely outcome, but the penalties can still be harsh.

A Comprehensive Parenting Plan Outlines Expectations

If you’re charged with custodial interference, you’re going to need help from a criminal defense lawyer. But if you’re exploring options for how to keep your child from a dangerous situation or how to modify or clarify the existing custody arrangement, you need a family law attorney.

Without a formal custody order in place, it will be more difficult to prove custodial interference by the other parent. This is why it’s a good idea even for co-parents who have reached their own informal parenting time arrangements to have it reviewed and approved by a Court. A carefully drafted parenting time agreement can help avoid misunderstandings and clearly outline both parties’ obligations.

Contact our East Brunswick New Jersey Divorce Attorneys today at (732) 810-0034 to schedule an appointment.