Interference with the Custody of a Child

Interference with Custody - Family Law Attorney Sonya B. CoffmanIn Texas, interference with child custody can have both civil and criminal implications. On the criminal side, it is unlawful for a person to take or keep a child younger than 18 years of age when he or she knows that taking or keeping the child violates a judgment or court order establishing the terms of the child’s custody.

It is also unlawful in Texas for a person to take or keep a child younger than 18 years of age when he or she (i) has not been awarded custody of the child by a court, (ii) knows that a divorce action or legal proceeding to determine the child’s custody has been filed, and (iii) takes the child out of the county in which the legal action is pending without the court’s permission and with the intent to deprive the court of its authority over the child.

However, it is a defense to a legal action for interfering with child custody if the child is returned to the county within three days after being unlawfully taken from the county.

The Texas Penal Code prohibits interference with child custody. The statute prohibits a “person” from interfering with child custody, which means that the statute is not limited to parents. Grandparents, other relatives and family friends also should be aware of this law.

A non-custodial parent also violates Texas law by enticing or persuading a child younger than 18 years of age to leave the custody of the custodial parent, guardian or person authorized by the custodial parent or guardian to have custody of the child.

Interference with the custody of a child is a felony that could result in jail time (of not less than 180 days but not more than 2 years) and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

On the civil side, interfering with child custody may be grounds for modifying a court order establishing custody and possession of or access to a child. The ability to co-parent in the best interest of a child is fundamental to joint managing conservatorship. So, when one parent continually undermines the other parent’s relationship with a child or manipulates the other parent’s access to a child, it may be evidence of lack of co-parenting in the best interest of the child.

Real life examples of problematic behavior include scheduling “fun” activities during the other parent’s time (thereby forcing a choice of giving up parenting time or disappointing the child), refusing to open a security gate to allow the other parent access to the child, making it difficult to communicate with the child; and not having the child at home when the other parent comes to pick up a child.

Parents also should know that they cannot take possession of a child during the other parent’s possession time except by prior agreement or in case of an emergency. A recent dispute involved a parent who was present at the child’s school at the time school was dismissed for the day. The child saw the parent and “insisted” on going home with that parent even though it was not that parent’s possession time. The court found that the parent wrongfully took possession of the child in interference of the other parent’s custody.

If your former spouse or in-law has interfered with the custody of your child, call Sonya Coffman to discuss your legal rights. Because . . . family matters.