Child custody in Texas: Interfering with a court order

Even as the child’s parent, going against a court order and taking or keeping a child may be viewed as custody interference, a state jail felony offense.

When parents in Texas divorce or decide to raise their children apart, they or the courts must establish a child custody arrangement. Although both typically want what is best for their child, people in these situations may not see eye to eye on what that is. Consequently, they may believe as parents they have the right and are doing what is best by taking matters into their own hands. However, doing so could be considered interference with a court order, which could have serious legal implications.

What is interfering with child custody?

Once the court orders a child custody arrangement, custodial and noncustodial parents must comply with the specifications. Under Texas law, taking or keeping a child under 18-years-old is considered interference with child custody, and a criminal offense. This is the case in situations when a parent takes or keeps a child knowing that they are violating a court order or judgment or when a parent persuades his or her child to leave the other parent's custody. It is also considered interference if custodial parents relocate outside of the county or geographical area without obtaining permission from the court or if they take their child out of the U.S. in order to keep him or her away from the other parent.

Are there exceptions to the law?

While parents are generally required to comply with court orders, there are certain situations that may be considered exceptions to interference allegations. Texas law specifies that parents are able to take or keep their children if they are acting in accordance with a court order granting them access or custody. People may also argue their actions were not interference if they kept their children or took them away due to circumstances that were outside of their control. However, they must immediately have attempted to notify the other parent what happened and to rectify the situation. The law does not apply in cases when parents are entitled to have their children and are fleeing actual or attempted family violence.

What are the potential penalties for child custody interference?

Interfering with a child custody order is considered a state jail felony in Texas. Thus, state law provides that a conviction of this offense is punishable by a maximum fine of $10,000. Additionally, parents who are convicted of interfering with child custody may be sentenced to between 180 days and two years in state jail.

Protecting the future

What may seem like doing the right thing as a parent in Texas could have serious legal repercussions. In addition to the potential criminal penalties they may face if convicted of interfering with child custody, parents' future custody and visitation with their children may be impacted. Therefore, parents who have been charged with custody interference, or who are unsure of their rights and responsibilities, may find it helpful to consult with an attorney. A lawyer may help them understand their options, and ensure they do not jeopardize their parental rights.