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Can Parents Really “Kidnap” Their Own Child?

Divorce and custody can be difficult, emotionally fraught proceedings. In some cases, a parent may intentionally keep their child from the other parent. This is colloquially known as “parental kidnapping,” and it can have serious consequences.

What is parental kidnapping?

Minnesota state law makes depriving another of their custodial or parental rights a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison and up to $8,000 in fines.

In divorce and custody cases, this can happen when one parent is unhappy with the court order and decides to take matters into their own hands. Depriving someone of their custodial or parental rights can be as simple as refusing to let the other parent pick their child up for their parenting time, in violation of a court order. In extreme cases, one parent may conceal the child and refuse to tell the other parent where they are, or leave the town, state or country.

Defenses to depriving a parent of custodial or parental rights

There are some affirmative defenses to “parental kidnapping.” A parent may prove they reasonably believed their actions were necessary to protect the child or themselves from physical or sexual assault, or “substantial emotional harm” to the child. They may also prove that their actions were authorized by a court order prior to the violation, or the other parent consented to their actions.

While it’s important for parents to follow custody and visitation court orders as written, there may be emergency situations (such as abuse) where sharing custody could be dangerous. Minnesota courts have the power to make emergency custody decisions in such cases. Call your custody attorney immediately for advice on how to proceed. If you are in immediate danger, call law enforcement.

Call the trusted custody lawyers at Appelhof, Pfeifer & Hart, P.A. in St. Paul, MN for help navigating your child custody proceedings.

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