I’ve mentioned previously that criminal defense attorneys like me brace ourselves during the holidays for a blitz of criminal cases involving charges such as theft by unlawful taking (everything from holiday decorations to Salvation Army donation jars) to shoplifting.
Anyone who is co-parenting with an ex should be aware that another charge we see during the holiday season deals with child custody. The actual offense is called interference with a custody order – and it’s serious.
Let me give you a scenario: Say you have custody of the kids this weekend, and have a custody order in place that indicates you must return them to their other parent Monday. You and your ex decide to meet to exchange the children in the parking lot of a local restaurant. But when you get there, you and your ex have a tiff, and you drive away in a huff with the kids to cool down.
Guess what? You just technically interfered with a custody order.
And if your friendly neighborhood police officer decided to pursue the charge, you could be looking at very serious consequences. You should not delay in contacting a Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as the case occurs, as this can lead to a very serious matter.
Interfering with a child’s custody whether by the parents or other guardians is a reckless offense because you don’t have the privilege or the right to do so. Interfering with custody might happen among divorced parents because the parent might have misunderstood the court order or because there is a communication error between the parents. Sometimes a parent may also deliberately break the rules and keep the child longer than the court ordered agreement states. Often, these sorts of parents are under the impression that whatever they are doing is for the safety of their child. However, if you are not the parent and happen to break the laws with an intention to harm the child, it will be a question of the child’s safety, which you have disregarded. Therefore, you will be subjected to felony charges of the second degree once you are convicted. And if you are the true parent of the child and take the child without having custody or visitation, you will be convicted with a felony of the third degree.
How serious? While interference with a custody order is not, in itself, a sexual offense, those convicted are required to register with Pennsylvania State Police for its Megan’s Law website for 15 years.
Yes, you read that correctly: 15 years.
Just to provide a little background for people unfamiliar with Megan’s Law: That means you will be listed as a registered offender on the site, which is searchable by the public, which may include your family, friends, coworkers and even future prospective employers.
Is it likely to happen? Perhaps not. Family law attorneys will tell you that police officers, in general, are loathe to get involved in child custody issues, often deferring to the family court process.
But as a criminal defense attorney, I think it’s worth noting for all the parents out there who will be exchanging children this holiday season. So, if you get into this kind of predicament, don’t delay in contacting a skilled and experienced Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Attorney.
You may be wondering what I can do for you in a case such as this. After all, it seems pretty cut and dried. However, there are defenses I can use to get your charges dropped or reduced, depending on your specific situation. For example, if your child is 14 or older, and he or she decides they want to be with you on their own without persuasion or coercion from you, you are not interfering with the custody order, especially if you have no intent to harm the child by committing a crime against him or her.
Each case is different, so again, if you find yourself facing this charge, call me right away.