Violation of Child Custody Order Could Lead to Serious Consequences

handcuff-449966-m.jpgViolations of child custody orders occur with some frequency in San Diego and throughout California. A parent who violates a child custody order could be arrested and found guilty of child abduction. In a recent case, a mother from Miami violated a custody arrangement and took her three sons all the way to California. Once she was found, the police arrested her and brought the children back to their father, who was then granted sole custody of all three children. Determining the child custody arrangement or “parenting plan” is often the most contentious aspect of a divorce proceeding. Parents facing such issues are encouraged to contact a local family law attorney who can help facilitate the process as smoothly and efficiently as possible under the circumstances.

In yet another recent case, after a mother was arrested for violating a custody arrangement, she was found guilty of two counts of child abduction in violation of the state’s criminal penal code. Fortunately for the mother, the court suspended the sentence and placed her on three years probation. But the mother appealed the decision, arguing that the court erred in its instructions to the jury. Here, the couple had twins in 1999 and divorced in 2007. The father remarried.

An original settlement agreement between the spouses provided something called a “right of first option” to care for the twins, meaning that either parent had the opportunity to take care of the children while the other parent was dealing with an emergency. Over the years there were multiple child custody orders and arrangements, but in 2009, the court awarded the father primary physical custody. In late 2012, the father went with his mother back to her home in Jamaica, planning to stay there for a week or two. He intended that his new wife would take care of the children. On the mother’s designated day to have the twins, she took them to Arizona.

They were away in Arizona for four or five days before the police caught up with them. The mother argued that she believed that she had the “first option” to care for the twins, entitling her to custody for the time the dad was away. The court found that she was well aware that the father had physical and legal custody of the children. The mother even admitted to knowing that she was not permitted to take the twins out of state. The court upheld the trial court’s jury instruction pertaining to these issues, noting that there was insufficient evidence that the mother acted under a good faith mistake of fact or mistake of law.

While this is an unpublished decision, and parties may not cite to or rely on it in future cases, the underlying legal analysis is something that may serve to inform later court proceedings in California. Most people are aware of the sensitive and serious nature of child custody cases. The ultimate goal is to serve the best interests of the child. Unfortunately, as we can see from this decision, child custody disputes can some times result in even more serious consequences, such as an arrest and the filing of criminal charges against one parent or another. No matter what type of child custody matter one is facing, it is critical that you contact an experienced, local family law attorney as early in the proceedings as possible.

Roy M. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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