Violating a child custody order can have serious consequences, including contempt of court and loss of custody or visitation rights. But in extreme cases the consequences can include criminal charges and, if the parent is convicted, prison time. A recent high-profile case in Dakota County led to just such a result.
Many readers have undoubtedly heard about the case of the mother who, after a bitter divorce, hid her two minor daughters from their father by keeping them on a Minnesota horse farm. It was two and a half years before the girls were found by law enforcement authorities. The woman was charged with six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights. Earlier this year she was convicted following a jury trial. In late September she was sentenced to serve eight months in prison.
Under Minnesota law, depriving another person of custodial or parental rights is a felony. In order to get a conviction, the state must prove the defendant acted with intent to substantially deprive the other parent of parental rights. A defendant can be found guilty if, with the requisite intent, he or she concealed a minor child from the other parent, or violated a court order by taking or failing to return the child to the other parent.
The statute provides an affirmative defense to the charge if the defendant proves they had a reasonable belief their actions were necessary to protect the child from sexual or physical abuse, or severe emotional injury.
Parents caught up in a bitter child custody dispute should think twice before taking the law into their own hands. The consequences can be severe and ultimately self-defeating. It is far better to adhere to the custody order while arguing for its modification in a court of law.
Source: Duluth News-Tribune, “Mother gets prison time for hiding daughters in Minnesota,” Brandon Stahl, Sept. 21, 2016