In California, the law defines parental kidnapping as a crime that can have severe repercussions. Parental child abduction occurs when a parent or other family member who does not have court-ordered visitation or custody rights runs away with a child and hides them for any period.
Under California PC 278, parental kidnapping, also called “child theft,” is illegal. It can qualify as a misdemeanor or felony, and the maximum punishment is four years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.
When Does Parental Child Abduction Constitute a Crime?
According to California kidnapping laws, child theft is a crime if an adult knowingly and maliciously takes a child under 18 away from their legal guardian. To convict someone of child abduction, a prosecutor must also prove that the defendant did not have custody rights at the time of the kidnapping, and that they purposely planned to conceal the child from the lawful custodian.
A person usually becomes a child’s legal guardian after a judge rules it is in the child’s best interests to have that adult look after them. California judges do not automatically grant custody to the mother or father; instead, they evaluate the quality of life the child could have under each parent’s care.
A court might grant custody to someone other than a parent if a judge believes both biological parents are unfit. Usually, this is called “guardianship,” where someone who is not the child’s parent asks for custody because the parents can’t appropriately care for the child’s needs.
Can a Father Take a Child Away From the Mother in California?
If there is no court order in effect, both parents have equal rights to their child if they are unmarried or divorced. However, it is still illegal for one parent to conceal a child from the other. The only exception is in domestic violence cases where the father or mother feels they must flee with their child for safety’s sake. In this case, a parent who takes themselves and the child out of danger must notify the district attorney’s Child Abduction Unit within 10 days, and file the required documentation with the superior court clerk within a reasonable time.
In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to file for custody orders if you and your partner are separating, or if you never married and do not live together. Establishing legal guardianship provides an unambiguous direction to follow if future conflicts arise.
How Can a Defense Attorney Help Clear Parental Kidnapping Charges?
If you stand accused of child theft, whether as a misdemeanor or a felony, you need a knowledgeable attorney to represent you in court. Salvatore Ciulla has been successfully defending criminal cases in Orange County since 1986. With the right legal representation by your side, you can clear your record by proving that you did not act maliciously or that you are the victim of false accusations. To learn more about working with one of the top-rated lawyers in California and the U.S., reach out to us today for a complimentary consultation.