When estranged or divorced parents don't have child custody agreements in place, disputes can arise that can lead to legal problems and even potentially criminal charges -- not to mention stress and uncertainty for everyone involved, particularly the child. The case of a woman who was recently arrested in Texas for kidnapping her son is a case in point.
According to police, the 6-year-old boy at the center of the case had spent his entire life in Jefferson City, Missouri, with his father. However, there was no court-ordered custody agreement, according to authorities. They say the child's mother took him out to dinner one night earlier this month with the father's permission. However, when the man went to pick up his son at the hotel where he understood the woman was staying, he found neither of them there.
Allegedly, the father waited several hours at the hotel. When the mother and son did not return and he could not reach her by phone, law enforcement began a search. The mother and child were located in Texas. The boy was safe, but because she took him over state lines, the mother was arrested for felony parental kidnapping.
Under the law, if there is no court-ordered custody agreement in place, a parent can be charged with parental kidnapping if he or she deliberately attempts to deprive the other parent of rights to the custody of the child. A local police officer noted the "gray area" that law enforcement officers face in these situations. He says that without legal agreements in place, "police have to be the referees in child custody cases, and it's not good. It's not really our job."
No matter how amicable a split may be between a couple, it is always wise to have all arrangements involving children codified. Without the appropriate legal documents in place, misunderstandings and child custody disputes are more likely to arise. When this happens, people unfamiliar with the family dynamic, such as law enforcement officers and child welfare professionals, may have to become involved. This lack of a proper legal agreement can end up being costly, both financially and emotionally, in the end.
Source: KMIZ-TV Channel 17, "Parental kidnapping in Jefferson City ends with arrest in Texas" Jul. 10, 2014