Interference With Child Custody

May 29, 2015

Heather Hironimus, the mother whose refusal to circumcise her son has made national news, now faces criminal charges for interference with custody. She fought a legal battle for years, trying to prevent her four-year-old son from being circumcised, though she had agreed to circumcision in the parenting plan. Hironimus was recently jailed for defying a custody order and gave her consent to the circumcision in order to get out of jail. However, she has now been charged with interference of custody because she hid with her son in a domestic violence shelter for several months.

Criminal Interference

Interference with custody is a felony in Florida. A parent commits interference with custody when he or she, without a court order or the other parent’s consent, knowingly or recklessly takes or entices the child away from his or her parent’s or guardian’s custody. Having another person take the child away is also a crime.

Interference with custody is a third degree felony in Florida. It is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Parents who physically take their children away from the other parent also risk being charged with kidnapping, which is a first degree felony.

Defenses

A parent who interferes with the other parent’s custody may have a defense if he or she has good cause for taking the child away. The statute lists three possible defenses to interference with custody:

  • If the parent reasonably believes that keeping the child from the other parent is necessary to protect the child from danger to his or her welfare.
  • If the parent has been a victim of domestic violence, or was about to become a victim, and reasonably believed that taking the child away was necessary to escape the violence, or to protect the child from exposure to the domestic violence.
  • If the parent, without enticing the child and with no criminal purpose, reasonably relied on the child’s instigation in taking the child away.

Civil Remedies

A parent’s interference with the other parent’s custodial rights may not rise to the level of criminal charges. Less serious interference can include refusing to follow the time sharing schedule, not letting the child talk on the phone to the other parent, being late to pick up the child, or changing the schedule without letting the other parent know.

If the other parent is interfering with custody, a custodial parent can move for relief in court. The parent can file a motion for contempt, in which the court penalizes the other parent for not complying with the parenting plan. The parent may also file a motion to enforce the parenting plan, requesting relief from the interference.

The court has several options for remedies in interference cases. For example, the court may temporarily increase visitation in order to make up for denied visitation, switch the primary custodial parent, or change the visitation schedule. The court may also impose sanctions, such as fines or community service, on the noncompliant parent. Extreme interference resulting in parental alienation may mean that the parenting plan can be modified.

If you are having difficulties with your child’s other parent regarding custody and time sharing, it is important to have the advice of an experienced attorney. Since interference can sometimes even lead to criminal charges, parents need to understand the consequences of their actions. An attorney can also help you enforce a parenting plan if the other parent is not complying. Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.