Custodial Interference: What it is, What to do

Custodial interference can be defined simply as the taking/keeping of a child from his or her parent with the intent to interfere with that parent’s physical custody of the child.  This is a crime in most states, even if the offending parent also has custody rights.

There are varying degrees of custodial interference:

  • Parental kidnapping is just as it sounds.  A parent willfully absconds with the children, oftentimes out of state and even out of country to prevent the relationship between the children and the target parent.  This is typically the most serious type.
  • Custodial interference may also involve the failure of the offending parent to return the children to the target parent for scheduled parenting time in a timely manner.  It could be mere hours or even days.
  • The offending parent may fail to make the children available for parenting time in a consistent manner in accordance with an agreement or court order.
  • Restricting telephone contact is also an example of custodial interference, particularly when telephone contact is detailed by court order or agreement.

These offenses, the willful violation of a custody order or agreement are likely to met with traditional contempt-of-court remedies, but not in every case.  Some traditional remedies would include:

  • Fines and/or jail time for the offending parent.
  • Reimbursement of attorney’s fees and other costs incurred by the target parent.
  • Modification to the order/agreement that specifies child-exchange locations and times.
  • Make-up parenting time for the targeted parent.
  • Supervised parenting time for the offending parent.
  • Mediation.
  • Family therapy.

In a high-conflict custody situation, don’t expect that any of these will immediately prevent a repeat occurrence or otherwise reduce the conflict in your situation.  With exception to the first two in the list above, the balance of the example remedies are intended to preclude repeat occurrences and close exploitable loopholes in custody agreements.  For major occurrences involving complete denial of visitation or phone contact, a parental kidnapping, or clear and convincing evidence of severe parental alienation –  higher sanctions, up to and including a complete change in the custodial arrangement – are appropriate.

An important caveat! If you are paying child support, the withholding of child support on your own or on the advice of others is ill-advised.  Most courts today operate under the belief that custody rights are treated independently from child support.  You can and very likely will be in trouble for withholding child support no matter how justified you believe you are in doing so.

Reality is that these usual and customary remedies are very often inadequate.  They don’t serve as a deterrent to the offending parent.  While it may help the target parent obtain access to the children, it will not undo the damage to the child due to a combination of limited contact and parental alienation.

Making matters worse is the reality that many of the traditional remedies are rather difficult to enforce and require repeated return visits to court in order to seek more meaningful sanctions against the offending parent.  This is time-consuming and costly.

Despite this, we will often recommend that when you are experiencing ongoing, repeated custodial interference issues, filing contempt-of-court petitions, often repeatedly (when appropriate), is the only way to establish an ongoing pattern of behavior by the offending parent.  We point again to the language “when appropriate.” There are a variety of ways to define this, however, it’s important to understand that the court won’t want to hear about every “very minor” infraction.  For instance, if telephone contact is withheld 1 or 2 or 3 times, you may not want to initiate litigation as a result.  However, you will want to keep a journal that details dates, times, and number of attempts at phone contact.  That interference of telephone contact in combination with 1 or 2 willful violations of parenting time might offer you the opportunity to prepare a contempt-of-court petition on 3 items which will have a deeper impact with the court.

There are many ways to approach situations centered around custodial interference and countless remedies for same.  It is important to keep meticulous records with an appropriate level of detail.  It is important to keep any evidence which would demonstrate the offending parent’s willful misconduct, such as emails or voice mails where they admit to doing so.

Finally, it’s very important to decide when it’s appropriate to initiate action and, once initiated, to follow-through completely.  Don’t warn.  Don’t threaten.  Just act.

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  1. What on earth is a parent in NY State suppose to do when your 16 yr old is with his half brother who is working out of state consistently and that leaves my son with an explosive, high conflict personality who is hiding behind the state law that gives a ‘child’ the right to choose at age 12 and up??? There have been countless court order violations but the court doesn’t seem to give a damn. The court even put into the order what is suppose to happen and then put in ‘what ever’ the child and mother can arrange.????/ I am outraged with the family court system and the judge.

  2. Susan, we agree regarding the inaction of the courts when it comes to provable parental alienation and custodial interference. New Hampshire actually has a bill making the rounds which will expedite court enforcement and punishment for just such issues. We’ll be posting an article about this very soon.

  3. […] resources available for similar enforcement of custody orders and agreements.  Unfortunately, custodial interference happens is far too many cases and ends up usually being completely ignored by the family court […]

  4. […] even if you fear that your ex-partner will not relinquish the children for your custodial time (custodial interference).  If you’re late or fail to show one time, it will be twisted into “proof” of […]

  5. Susan,
    I have known of cases, like in your situation, in which custody was awarded to a person who was obviously a bad influence on children. New York State does not decide on the basis of the best interest of children, in fact, children are used as leverage by attorneys in the NYS Court System. I hope your situation has improved by this point. Let me know how you’re doing,, thank you, Dale

  6. The case im going through is I have police reports that state the mother denied my visits. I have three children. But, only two were added when the mother took them away from immediately after two years with hardly no contact. My third child i did not know was mine until she was a year old when I asked for a DNA test. The law guardian is good friends with the people whom were thought to be the father and grand parents of my third child. They are Respectable people im told by the law Guardian(Sanford A church) in Batavia NY court. When the mother asked for custody she did it out the blue after charges were put against me due to things that the mother helped create with my x girlfriend. I was in Jail for two days and still fighting the charges the DA has no idea what to do. Well in jail I gave the mother the kids I felt it was the best interest but as soon as i got out (which i was there for two days) she gave them back one had stiches and I got them removed (due to a garbage bag in her home) this is however documented. Then she wanted them again I gave them to her my son developed a tooth ache and she gave my children back to me (court order liberal visitation) the mother through the order could be given the kids when she wanted so I had to go by that order. After the tooth ache developed she did however take my son to emergency room had it took care of. But, she then used that and the jail time I had (two months later) and the kids were ordered to be givin to her immediately. (same day) Jail time which was in june and the tooth ache he got when he woke up at her house. The mother had no interest in the kids until after her and my ex became best friends put charges against me and today I dont have the kids im still fighting the charges with visitation for one child sun through wednesday) and two other children from saturday to sunday. I never get to spend time with all three together. One child is to be dropped off to the Respectable peoples house as the courts say, whom thought and are still saying after a DNA test that my daughter is theres. ( Law guardian wants the kids to be dropped off to them) never once did these people come to court. They are just well known and Respectable im told. I had fully custody of my two children and removed after two years. the third i still have joint custody she wasnt included which i dont understand if the mother thought i was a bad dad and had the courts remove the two children she should of thought the same with the third. But, the two children that were with me I had the courts order to stay away of the boyfriend (whom abused them and still is) if she had the third child included then the third child wouldnt be able to go and get dropped off at there home. The family that thinks my third child is there grand kid there son abused and was and still is but mother denies that she has broke up with him for two weeks. But, the courts modified the order and now all three children just cant be left alone with the x boyfriend. Well bottom line is I took my life and dedicated it into taking care of my children and because I cant afford a lawyer this is what happens. Legal Aid doesnt help every day in Leroy ny I drop off my children and they scream and scream begging me not to. Neighbors say they feel like crying to but no one can help no one does nothing. And the law guardian says the family that I dont want to be around my children are Respectable people in Leroy ny. This all happened August 22nd. Today in court my legal aid lawyer said my third child is not included she is crossed out on all the paper work I said well not on mine and he just said, “she is not included” and I should be happy that she isnt I still get to keep joint custody of her.” I wish I knew what to do. I made complaints, I wrote the judge, told them how paper work was tampered with, (in my opinion it was because when the mother asked for custody she asked for all three children) but they relized the third child would have to be ordered to stay away or in the new order it says not to be alone with the boyfriend.) what matters in NY state is who you know…the law guardian knows the boyfriends family and whatever they say goes even if they dont have to show up in court. sorry about the long message but im gonna keep writting someone will listen. All I wanted was the law guardian to be changed or a change of venue but I was denied. I wanted a fair chance to prove im a good dad. Today I cried in court because I know i wont get that chance. I even had paper work that the boyfriend had been around the kids and were in the hospital for alleged abuse by him…His family is respectable im told.

  7. Is it parental interference when my ex wife, sways my son, 15, into not wanting to come for a visitation? She allows my daughter to come but has discussed legal issues and has bad mouthed me to our son, to where he is not wanting to come for a visit anymore. I believe that he would still come for a visit, if my ex would have kept her mouth shut

  8. I have come to the conclusion that courts just don’t give a shit about a father’s rights! NONE! My crazy ass ex wife repeatedly denies visitation and unilaterally changes times and dates of court ordered visitation and NOTHING is done to her! Phuck the law!

  9. My ex husband’s wife came to my house while I was at work and removed my children without my knowledge or consent two hours before my ex husband is scheduled to pick up the kids for our exchange of custody as outlined in our divorce degree. I was notified via email by my ex after the fact. Does this constitute custodial interference in NYS?