Violating a child custody or parenting time order can have serious consequences — from being found in contempt of court to receiving less parenting time, and even losing custody rights. In extreme cases, the consequences can include criminal charges and, if convicted, jail time.
A 2016 high-profile case in Dakota County, Minnesota led to just such a result. Following their divorce, a mother concealed her two minor daughters from their father for more than two years. As a result, the mother was charged with six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights. In late September 2016, she was sentenced to serve eight months in prison.
Under Minnesota law, depriving another person of custodial or parental rights is considered a felony. 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, for example, they 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.
However, if the defendant proves they had a reasonable belief their actions were necessary to protect the child from abuse or severe emotional injury, the charges can be negated.
Parents in a child custody dispute should think carefully before attempting to take the law into their own hands. The consequences can be severe and ultimately self-defeating. Acting within the law allows parents to seek protection for their children without putting their own custody rights, parenting time, and personal freedom in jeopardy.
Source: Duluth News-Tribune, “Mother gets prison time for hiding daughters in Minnesota,” Brandon Stahl, Sept. 21, 2016