Child custody hearings are notoriously contentious, but they sometimes cross the boundary between civil matters and criminal charges.
In some cases of custodial interference, criminal charges are justified because one parent attempts to keep the other from access to the child. In other cases, one parent may report custodial interference to gain an advantage in a civil case.
Whether an allegation of custodial interference is reported in good faith or not, these allegations are serious and should be treated as such. Failing to give charges like this the attention they deserve can impact your custody rights and result in incarceration and other criminal penalties.
South Carolina Code of Laws Section 16-17-495 makes it unlawful for any person to interfere with a parent’s custodial rights over their child.
According to this statute, custodial interference happens when a person transports or causes a child under 16 years of age to be transported from the child’s legal custodian. This transportation must be done to conceal the child or thwart a custody order.
If a child is transported out of the state for more than 72 hours and the parent or custodian is not notified about the travel, a permissible inference arises that this was done to interfere with parental custody.
For example, suppose your child’s other parent picks them up from school. The other parent does not notify you, and you become worried when your child is not there to be picked up at the usual time. Calls to the other parent go unanswered. The other parent may have committed custodial interference.
If the other parent took your child out of South Carolina for three or more days, then this creates a presumption that they did so intending to interfere with your custody rights.
The penalties you could face if you are convicted of custodial interference vary depending on the circumstances.
Suppose that you return your child to the other parent or South Carolina within three days of a custody petition being filed. In that case, custodial interference is a misdemeanor that could result in up to three years in prison and fines.
If you are found to have led your child away using force or the threat of force, then you face an aggravated felony sentence of up to 10 years in prison and fines. Otherwise, custodial interference is a felony punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and fines.
You may be unable to stop a vindictive or wildly out-of-control parent from making false allegations against you. Still, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of being accused of custodial interference. Some of these include the following:
- Follow the parenting plan in your case as much as possible
- Communicate early about any changes you need to make to the parenting plan, such as an out-of-state trip that lasts longer than expected
- If at all possible, document in writing any agreed-upon changes in the parenting plan
- Get your attorney involved quickly if you learn the police have been called
Trying to resolve severe allegations like custodial interference on your own is a bad idea. Resolving these charges successfully depends on the facts and a detailed timeline of events — evidence that an experienced criminal defense lawyer can gather and prepare.
If you find yourself accused of custodial interference in Spartanburg or elsewhere in South Carolina, the criminal defense team at the Law Office of Mo Abusaft is here to help. Contact us at the first sign of trouble, and we will act quickly on your behalf.