The Consequences of Parental Kidnapping
Pennsylvania is on the verge of adopting stricter laws concerning child custody designed to strengthen standards of awarding custody in a divorce case and of protecting the child once in custody. Senate Bill 78, which is now before the state legislature, is commonly referred to as Kayden’s Law.
Kayden Mancuso was a 7-year-old elementary school student who was killed by her father in 2018 during an unsupervised visit. The father, who then killed himself, had a history of threatening actions, but a judge allowed him unsupervised visits anyway. Kayden’s Law will force judges to delve deeper into a person’s background before allowing unsupervised visits.
But what of parental kidnapping, a popular term that refers to the act of a noncustodial parent taking away his or her own child from the custody of the other spouse without any authorization?
The short answer is that parental kidnapping is already illegal and perpetrators face severe consequences.
If you’ve been charged under Pennsylvania statutes for what is called “interference with the custody of children” — commonly referred to as parental kidnapping — you will need the help of an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.
If you’re located in Pittsburgh, or nearby in communities such as Shaler Township, Penn Hills, Fox Chapel, or Aspinwall, contact me at Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys At Law, PC. I will do everything in my power to defend your rights and pursue the best possible outcome for you.
What Is Parental Kidnapping?
Section 2904 of Pennsylvania’s Consolidated Statutes defines interference with the custody of children as:
“A person commits an offense if he knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any child under the age of 18 years from the custody of its parent, guardian, or any other lawful custodian, when he has no privilege to do so.”
“Privilege” is the operative word. Whether the abducting parent has the privilege to take the child depends on the custody order currently in effect and on circumstances that might justify their actions.
An example of interference with custody could be the noncustodial parent picking up their child from school and taking the child away for a weekend together when the custody order clearly bars such an action. The order allows only supervised parenting time.
What Are The Penalties for Parental Kidnapping?
Violations of Section 2904 can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. It is generally charged as a felony of the third degree but could be charged as a misdemeanor of the second degree if the abducting parent:
Has partial custody or visitation rights under an existing order
Takes the child for 24 hours or less
Does not remove the child from Pennsylvania
If convicted of the felony, the penalties are a prison sentence of three and a half to seven years and a fine of up to $15,000. The misdemeanor charge carries a possible sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
The crime can rise to a second-degree felony if the abductor is not a parent or someone in an “equivalent position” who disregards the safety of the child or causes harm.
Possible Legal Defenses
Section 2904(d) lists defenses to a charge of interference with custody of children:
The child was taken with the belief it was necessary to “preserve the child from danger to its welfare”
The child was at least 14 years of age and was taken at “its own instigation without enticement” and without criminal intent on part of the parent or custody-eligible person
The actor is the child’s parent, guardian, or other lawful custodian and is “not acting contrary to an order entered by a court of competent jurisdiction
Work with an Experienced Attorney
Obviously, a conviction for what is popularly known as parental kidnapping can result in severe consequences, even if it is charged as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
If convicted of a felony, you could also lose your voting and 2nd Amendment rights. In either case — misdemeanor or felony — your conviction will appear on your criminal record for a minimum of 10 years, making it difficult to obtain employment or become eligible for many public programs.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania law allows for the defense of “reasonable concern” for the safety of your child. It also offers a defense if your child instigates the so-called kidnapping. You can also argue that you had rights under the current custody order to be with your child.
If you’re arrested for interference with the custody of a child, you could find yourself in jail overnight or even longer before a bond is set. The first thing you must do is hire a criminal defense attorney. Do not say anything to anyone other than your attorney — not the police or prosecutors or anyone else who approaches you. Tell them you want your attorney present.
If you find yourself in such a desperate situation in or around Pittsburgh, call me at Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys At Law, PC, immediately. I will help you fight for your full rights and work with you on a solid defense strategy aimed at achieving the best possible result.