Where Family Law and Criminal Law Intersect – Interference with Child Custody

Happy Friday, everybody. This week, we’re continuing our series on the intersection of criminal law and family law. And this week we’ll be talking about an offense that most people don’t realize is a criminal offense and that’s interference with child custody.

What interference with child custody is, it’s actually in the Texas Penal Code section 2503. And I’ll put a little reminder down there of that code section so you can look it up. What that is, is when one parent intentionally interferes with the visitation or the custody right of the other parent.

So, the way this typically comes up is if one parent has standard visitation or it’s their weekend, so to speak, or their week to have the child, the other parent either refuses to bring them over and drop them off as dictated by the court order. Or they leave the jurisdiction, take them out of state, take them out of the County to some other place where the other parent can’t get to them. That’s your typical, textbook interference with child custody case.

However, we typically see this case pop up in a more subtle manner, and that is instances where the child is getting to the age in which their opinions and their decisions can be taken into account. So the child’s 13, 14, 15 years old. That child makes the decision that, rather than go to mom’s or dad’s for the weekend, they’d rather stay with their other parent. They don’t want to go to the other parents to let them exercise their custody or their visitation schedule.

While that’s certainly a situation that can be figured out in the family law setting, it’s not enough to simply say, “Well, they said that, so I’m not going to take my kid over to their dads or their moms like the court order says.” That can land you in a whole lot of hot water. And ultimately, it could lead to your arrest and being charged with a state jail felony because it is a felony level offense.

So, when you’re in a situation like that, where you’ve got a child who is either refusing to leave or voicing some hesitation to leave to the other parent’s house, it’s important that A, you really have a good family lawyer on standby that can guide you through the family law aspect of that case. And whether that’s filing an emergency motion, or something in front of the family law judge to try to resolve that conflict.

But it’s also important that you consult with a criminal law attorney, because if the other parent calls the police to file a charge on you for this offense, our job is to interface with the investigating agency, interface with the police department and try to keep those criminal charges at bay, while the family lawyer does their job to try to resolve the situation amicably or at least validly through the family law court system.

The other thing that can get people in trouble from time to time is, it is considered an offense if you convince the child to either leave the jurisdiction or to leave the custody of the other parents. So if you’re telling your child, “Hey, it’s mom’s weekend. It’s dad’s weekend, but when you get over there, just sneak out of the window and then come home and you can stay here.” That’s considered an offense, even though you’re not the one interfering with the custody per se, on a physical level. By you convincing the child to do that, that can be considered an offense.

So if there’s proof of that, normally they come in the form of text messages to the kid, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook messages to the kid telling them, “Just go ahead and leave your dad’s and come on home.” That can be enough again, to get those criminal charges filed. So, you have to be really, really careful when you have a situation like that.

If you or anybody you know is in a situation like that, where the other parent is making these allegations, “Hey, you’re keeping my child from me.” Then it’s very important that you contact both a family law attorney that knows what they’re doing and a criminal attorney that knows what they’re doing, so we can try to help get you out of that situation as scathelessly as possible. Because otherwise you could be in for a world of hurt.

As always, if you have any questions about this or anything else, please feel free to reach out and let me know. I’d be happy to discuss them with you, either one-on-one, via email, or on a video just like this if it’s a question that I get a lot. I look forward to speaking to you guys again next week. Have a great weekend. And stay safe.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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