Custodial interference is an attempt by one parent to disrupt the custody rights of the other. It is classified as a crime and can be prosecuted in court. If found guilty, jail time is a possible penalty. Custodial interference often happens as part of a larger custody dispute. While courts generally encourage parents to work out custody disputes outside of court with the assistance of people such as family lawyers and mediators, they can intervene if necessary.
When parents separate, a custody agreement is made, determining the custodial rights of both parents. They may have joint custody, sharing the child equally, or another arrangement may be reached, with one parent having the child more of the time and the other parent having visitation rights. If either parent reneges on the agreement and attempts to keep the child outside of her or his court-ordered custodial time, this is custodial interference.
One form of custodial interference involves refusing to release the child to the other parent for a scheduled visit. Parents can also keep children past the time allotted under their custodial rights, or entice a child away. For example, a parent who is not entitled to a visit might pick a child up at school when the other parent is supposed to have custody. When one parent's custody rights are interfered with, that parent is entitled to report it to the court, as well as to law enforcement.
Sometimes, a situation can be resolved without involving the courts. In other cases, it may be necessary to take a parent to court to restore custody rights. A parent may also argue that the custody agreement should be revisited and perhaps revised to prevent violations of custody rights in the future. For example, if one parent kept a child past the allotted time, the other parent may request that future visits be supervised to ensure that the child is returned after the visit.
Under the law, if a parent interferes with custodial rights in the interests of protecting a child from danger or out of concern for personal safety, this is not considered a violation of the law. Events outside of a parent's control can also happen, such as a storm preventing a planned transfer of the child. Likewise, parents can reach an agreement ahead of time that disrupts the custody agreement, as for instance if a parent wants to take the child on a trip. In cases where custodial rights are interrupted and there is no imminent danger, compelling reason, or previous agreement, the court will consider this to be custodial interference and can take action.