A variety of circumstances may lead a non-custodial parent to kidnap their child. For instance, divorce, estrangement, and bad co-parenting relationships may create tumultuous situations. Emotionally charged circumstances may overcome rational decision-making, whether acting on impulse or even after reflection.
In other cases, a simple misunderstanding or confusion about custody orders and visitation arrangements can lead to a kidnapping charge. Violation of a custody order, despite a valid reason for doing so, may be the basis of a kidnapping charge. When a custody order is violated, the subjective wants or needs of the child, are irrelevant.
Under Florida law, kidnapping is “forcibly, secretly, or by threat confining, abducting, or imprisoning another person against his or her will and without lawful authority.” Additionally, to be charged with kidnapping, the offender must intend to:
Florida law does not specifically address parental kidnapping, but the legal age of consent is 13 years old. Therefore, any act of confinement against a child under age 13 will be considered against the child’s will. A parent may only be charged with kidnapping if their parental rights have been restricted by the courts. Legal restrictions on parental rights may include custody orders or divorce documents outlining custody agreements.
Typically, parental kidnapping cases do not involve a parent holding their child for ransom or any intention to harm the child. As mentioned, instances of parental kidnapping likely result from a violation of court orders associated with custody or visitation. Following are some scenarios that may lead to a kidnapping charge against a parent:
Kidnapping may also occur when one parent removes a child from an abusive situation or exposure to danger or harm. For example, an alcoholic parent who regularly drives under the influence of alcohol with the child in the vehicle. Frequent danger to the child may influence the other parent to withhold visitation. While withholding visitation is legally considered “kidnapping,” you will be afforded an opportunity for judicial review of your circumstances.
A judge will review your parental rights, including any custody orders in effect. Additionally, the court will evaluate your intent for taking your child or withholding them from the other parent. In cases involving danger or harm to the child, the Child Abduction Protection Act may prohibit kidnapping charges against you.
The Child Abduction Protection Act specifically focuses on custody-related issues that lead to kidnapping. Any person who “knowingly or recklessly takes or entices, or aids, abets, hires, or otherwise procures another to take or entice” a minor child from a custodial parent, guardian, or public agency has interfered with custody. Additionally, the Act allows the court to limit visitation or order other restrictions on custody. The court is authorized to restrict parental rights, when it suspects a parent might not conform to the parenting plan.
Further, the Act protects custodial parents who remove their children from exposure to harm. A parent will not be charged with kidnapping if taking their child was necessary to protect them from danger. For instance, a parent who has reason to believe domestic violence might occur, is permitted to act to keep the child safe. In these situations, the parent can remove the child and seek safety. Often, a parent will also be a victim of domestic violence. To escape the abuse, the parent will leave, taking the children with them to ensure their safety.
Kidnapping is a serious charge involving harsh penalties. Penalties will vary depending on whether the charge is brought under Florida’s kidnapping law or the Child Abduction Protection Act. Typically, district attorneys will lack sympathy for those accused of kidnapping. Therefore, they aim to prosecute the accused to the fullest extent allowed by the law.
In Florida, kidnapping is a first-degree felony and if convicted, may be punishable by a life sentence in a state prison. A life sentence may be up to 30 years. In addition, you may face life probation and a $10,000 fine. In Florida, interfering with custody orders is a third-degree felony. Depending on the circumstances, if convicted, you may face up to five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine. As with all court-imposed penalties, the judge will consider your past criminal history. If you have committed the same or similar crimes, you may receive maximum penalties. In either case, you will risk hindering your ability to contact and spend time with your child.