When a couple with children gets divorced, time with their children is typically a top concern. This issue evokes strong passion, and emotions run high as couples attempt to agree on a parenting plan. Some couples can work together long enough to hammer out the details. But others find that amicably working it out is impossible. If one or both parents will not cooperate, then agreements get trashed and a judge must order custody arrangements. However, when a judge makes these decisions, both parents typically walk away angry, and no one gets what they want.
Unfortunately, some parents’ anger can fester for months and even years after a judge enters an order they disagree with. And even if a couple reaches an agreement, they may change their minds over time and become dissatisfied with the arrangement. This dissatisfaction can lead to anger toward the other parent. Sometimes, it can even lead to parenting time interference, where one parent withholds the child from the other. This is called custody interference and can result in criminal charges for the parent violating the custody order.
Custodial Interference Charges
The state of Tennessee takes the responsibility of establishing and enforcing parental rights quite seriously. When a parent, step-parent, grandparent, adoptive parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or any family member withholds a child from the parent who currently has physical custody rights, the state can charge them with a crime.
It is interesting to note that the Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-2-305 applies to both kidnapping and custodial interference charges. While they are not the same, these charges do have a common thread of holding someone illegally or against their will. With kidnapping, it is typically a stranger using force to abduct someone. But when the abductor is a family member who disobeys a custody order, the charge of custodial interference applies. Kidnapping is a class C felony that can result in up to 15 years in prison. Custodial interference is a class E felony that carries a prison sentence of up to six years. However, if the offender voluntarily returns the child before arrest, the offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, up to a $2,500 fine, or both. There are defenses to the charge of custodial interference. For instance, if Parent A cannot return the child to Parent B without endangering the child, this is a defense to custodial interference. Events such as bad weather that are outside of Parent A’s control also preclude criminal charges.
Know Your Rights to Prevent Parenting Time Interference
While neither parent can control the other’s actions, there are steps you can take when you suspect your ex may attempt to withhold your child or children from you.
First, take the time to sit down and really read through the final custody order. Please read it thoroughly. If you have any questions at all, contact your attorney, so you completely understand how custody arrangements are supposed to work.
Then take some time to read through Tennessee Code Annotated Section 36-6-101(a)(3). This gives you detailed information regarding what your co-parent must allow while your child is in their custody. For instance, the custodial parent must allow phone calls of reasonable frequency and duration between the child and their other parent. They must allow the co-parent to send mail and packages to the child without interference. They must apprise the non-custodial parent of any school information or emergency that arises.
This content is what courts can enforce. So be familiar with these rules, abide by them yourself, and be sure your co-parent abides as well. If you find that your ex is unlawfully interfering with your parenting time, here are some additional steps to take.
Custody Order Violations
If your ex shows signs of violating the custody order, you may wonder what you can do to stop this behavior. Unfortunately, getting the courts involved may be necessary. This may cause further animosity between you and your co-parent, but if their violations are persistent, it may be your only recourse.
Once you notice your ex is violating the custody order, begin keeping a log or journal of some sort. You want to track:
- Instances where the co-parent changes plans without informing you or discussing it with you;
- Times when you attempt to reschedule parenting time but flexibility is denied;
- Instances where the co-parent keeps the child beyond the drop-off time;
- Times when the co-parent refuses to return your child, and for how long; and
- Occasions when the co-parent refuses to allow you to speak to your child or transgresses the protections detailed above.
Keep as detailed a journal as possible. And try not to speak over the phone, as it leaves no paper trail. Get them to write out their correspondence, so you have proof of what they said and when.
We Can Help
If you are repeatedly denied access to your child as detailed in the custody order, it is time to speak to one of the experienced attorneys at Batson Nolan PLC. We can petition the court to do what is necessary to enforce the order. Your time with your children is precious. Call us today or contact us online to set up a free consultation in our Clarksville or Springfield office.