Family law is one of the tensest areas of the law because of the high emotions involved in judgments involving children. After a divorce, a child custody arrangement is made to specify the hours each partner has custody of the minor kid.
Parents who violate the terms of the custody arrangement may remove the child from Georgia, refuse the other parent custody, or keep the child for longer than is allowed during visits. This offense is also referred to as interference with custody.
In Georgia, there are three ways to commit the offense of interference with custody:
- Retaining a kid or committed individual past the legal window of opportunity for visitation
- Knowingly harboring any juvenile or committed offender who flees their guardian, parent, or other legal guardians
- Deliberately or recklessly removing or luring any committed kid away from the person with legal care
Contravening a custody order can have serious repercussions, so it’s critical to obtain legal counsel to defend your rights.
The primary distinction between abduction and interference with custody is that kidnapping calls for the taking to be done against the victim’s will. It is not always true that a child was abducted against their will when there is interference with custody. Even if the child chose to stay with that parent or was offered money to be with that parent, that parent could still be accused of interfering with custody.
Interstate interference with custody happens when a parent takes a child out of Georgia without the legal custodian’s consent or keeps them in another state for longer than the custodial parent agreed to.
Who in Georgia Is Considered a Child?
Anyone under the age of 17 is considered a child. If someone is under the legal custody of the court and under the age of 18, they are still regarded as a kid.
What Is Someone Who Is Committed?
Anyone who is under another person’s legal custody is said to be committed. Either a child or an adult can be the subject. Because of this, unlike with a kid, there is no age restriction on someone who can be a committed person.
When the father broke the terms of the custody arrangement for his two children, he was found guilty of interference with custody. Evans v. State, 212 Georgia App. 415 (1994).
The ex-wife and the father had two daughters. Father told Mother he planned to start using his two-week visitation rights on July 14. A note stating that the child could not be picked up until July 31st was discovered by Mother when she went to Father’s house to take up the child two weeks later.
On the 31st, she returned, but Father would not give her custody of their daughter. You’ll never see her again, Father shouted as Mother walked out of the building. Until the child was found with their Father following an auto accident, the Mother’s efforts to find her daughter were futile.
According to the Court, the Father violated the terms of the custody arrangement by interfering with Mother’s visitation time. As a result, there was enough evidence to convict him of interfering with custody.
What Should Be Proven?
In Georgia, the state must establish the suspect’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for the offense of interference with custody to result in a conviction. This requires proving both intents and that the suspect intentionally or carelessly withheld the kid from the care of another without a valid reason to do so.
Although not specifically mentioned in the statute, actions like preventing a child from speaking to the other parent or blocking phone calls are examples of actions that interfere with the parent-child relationship. A Court may take those actions into account when deciding who gets to decide who gets to have custody.
What Is the Punishment for a First or Second Conviction for Interfering with Child Custody?
The first and second custody interference convictions are also misdemeanors. A first offense carries a fine of $200 to $500 and a sentence of one to five months in county prison. A more severe punishment is handed out for a second conviction for interfering with custody. Three to twelve months in county jail and a $400 to $1,000 fine make up this penalty.
What if I’m Accused of Interfering with a Child’s Custody for the Third Time?
Any subsequent convictions for interfering with another person’s custody become felonies if a person is found guilty of the offense more than twice. One to five years in prison are the possible penalties for felony custody interference.
Georgia Interference with Custody Defenses
The following are potential Georgia interference with custody defenses:
- Unclear Wording: The wording of the custody order was unclear, and if the parties did not receive precise notice of the line, the defendant did not break the terms of the agreement. State v. Brassell, 259 Ga. 590 (1989).
- Lack of Intent or Knowledge of Taking: You may have a defense if you didn’t plan to take the child away from the parent who is legally responsible for raising them or if you had no idea that you were violating the agreed-upon visitation schedules.
- In one case, the court determined that the father was not guilty of interfering with the custody of his daughter because the only reason she was held longer than allowed was the inevitable breakdown of his truck. State v. Scott, 1990, 198 Ga. App. 10.
- Abuse/Neglect: There was a basis for suspicion that the kid had experienced abuse or neglect. Under the law, a child may be withheld from their legal guardian if there is good reason to suspect that they have. The Division of Family and Children Services must be notified within 72 hours, even if there is the cause.
- They Were Not Children: Under Georgia law, a child is defined as a person who is under the age of 17 or 18, depending on the situation. Therefore, there cannot be a conviction if it can be established that the child was older than this age when the interference was done.
The following will not serve as defenses to interference with custody:
- Child support: Visitation rights with the minor child are still valid even if the party isn’t making child support payments. If the other party is not paying on time, you have alternative options, such as notifying the Division of Child Support Services.
- The kid didn’t want to go: Even if the kid won’t leave the house, the parent still needs to adhere to the visitation and custody arrangements. It doesn’t matter if the child agreed to accompany the defendant if they were still taken against the will of the custodial parent at the time. The youngster gave their permission to the taking.
- Mistaken age: The fact that the accused believed the minor kid to be older than 18 years old at the time and was unaware of their actual age is not a defense to the offense of interfering with custody.
- Extended stay: If a parent is given permission to take the child out of the state without informing the other parent or over the other parent’s opposition, they are guilty of interstate interference with custody. A person only has permission to leave the state for a predetermined time; any more time is illegal without consent.
- A better life: Personal preferences regarding what is best for the child do not supersede a court order. Unless all parties agree otherwise, the court’s order must be followed by both parties. Any attempts to stifle someone else’s time with the kids based on someone else’s views won’t hold up in court.
Should I Hire a Lawyer to Represent Me in a Custody Interference Case?
Yes. Consult a Georgia criminal attorney if you are being charged with interfering with a child’s custody. Your lawyer will advise you on the best course of action for defending your case and avoiding exorbitant fines.