The state of Colorado always aims to put childrens’ best interests first when it comes to custody issues. In recognition of how vital both parents can be in a child’s life, the ideal situation involves equal custody division. However, this isn’t always practical and — in some cases — might even be contrary to the child’s safety and well-being. In either case, the custody agreement finalized by the family courts is designed to ensure the child has structured and safe access to their parents.

But what happens when one parent decides to breach this agreement? Parental kidnapping may seem like a strong term, but it is in many ways an appropriate description of a parent taking custody matters into their own hands in contravention of the legally-binding court order. After all, it can significantly impact the lives of the child and the other parent, as well as carrying severe legal penalties. That said, it can be quite a complex matter and the definitions and legal outcomes can depend on location.

So, what is parental kidnapping in Colorado? Let’s explore it a little further.

Defining Parental Kidnapping

Parental kidnapping can feel like something of an alarming phrase. It’s certainly a serious matter, but what is parental kidnapping in Colorado? Also known as custodial interference, this involves the unauthorized removal, concealment, or retention of a child by one of the parents. In many cases, this revolves around breaching the custodial rights of one parent following a divorce.

The state of Colorado takes a firm stance against parental kidnapping. While the legal system acknowledges that both parents should have meaningful relationships with their children, it also recognizes the potential harm custodial interference can cause children and the primary custodial parent. We’ll explore the range of consequences later, but it should be noted that these are in keeping with the seriousness of the offense.

So, what does it take for an act to be technically considered parental kidnapping in Colorado? Well, certain elements need to be present. These include:

  • A clear custodial agreement: An existing court order or agreement outlining the custodial rights of each parent must be in place. This effectively serves as the basis on which the parents actions are considered either within the terms or in breach of the law.
  • Intention to breach: A clear intention to breach the custody agreement can be a crucial factor in determining whether an action technically qualifies as parental kidnapping. In essence, there needs to be clarity on whether the parent takes the child with the intention of keeping them away from the other parent or circumventing a court-ordered custody arrangement. It can’t just be a case of the parent returning the child later than planned due to issues beyond their control or prior agreement with the main custodial parent.
  • The act wasn’t performed to protect the child: One of the potential defenses for a case of parental kidnapping in Colorado is that it was done to protect the child from potential harm. As stated in Colorado statutes § 18-3-304 Violation of Custody Order or Order Relating to Parental Responsibilities: “3. It shall be an affirmative defense either that the offender reasonably believed that his conduct was necessary to preserve the child from danger to his welfare, or that the child, being at the time more than fourteen years old, was taken away at his own instigation without enticement and without purpose to commit a criminal offense with or against the child.”

The Influences

Parental kidnapping is not usually the first choice of action for a parent who doesn’t have primary custody. While it is clearly not acceptable for any parent to breach custody agreements without good reason, it’s often rooted in nuanced family dynamics and various factors can contribute to the breakdown of co-parenting relationships. Getting to know what these contributing factors are not just helps to better understand the action of parental kidnapping, but also gives parents insights that allow them to spot the potential signs, allowing them to intervene before it occurs.

Some of these influences include:

Custody disputes

Perhaps the most common contributing factor in parental kidnapping is unresolved custody disputes. When parents cannot agree on custody arrangements and visitation schedules, tensions may escalate. The pressure of not having what they consider to be fair access to their child may lead one parent to take drastic actions. Their desire to gain control or assert perceived parental rights can drive a parent to kidnap their child, believing it is in the child’s best interest or even to “punish” the other parent.

Communication breakdown

Poor communication between parents is another key factor. This isn’t about one parent misunderstanding the main custodial parent and inadvertently returning the child later than agreed; this isn’t parental kidnapping. Rather, when open and constructive communication breaks down, conflicts may escalate. In these cases, one parent might feel their position is threatened or compromised, compelling them to act unilaterally, such as removing the child without consent to address these perceived injustices or concerns.

Disrupted visitation

Sometimes, the main custodial parent may not themselves be acting strictly within the terms of the custody agreement. Perhaps they frequently cancel visitation at the last minute or refuse access on occasion. Rather than pursue the matter through the correct legal channels to address this, the other parent might take matters into their own hands.

Concerns about the child’s well-being

A loving parent will understandably prioritize their child’s well-being. As we’ve previously outlined, when there is a clear case of abuse or endangerment, removing the child without authorization may not fall under the terms of parental kidnapping in Colorado. However, it might also be the case that the non-custodial parent simply perceives the child to not be safe or that the way the other parent is raising them is not in their best interests. While this might be rooted in genuine concern, it may also lead to acting unilaterally in ways that fall under the definition of custodial interference.

The Consequences

courtroom in America

Parental kidnapping in Colorado carries severe legal consequences, which reflects the state’s commitment to protecting the well-being of the child as well as the rights of the parents.

Some of the legal repercussions if the parent is found guilty of custodial interference can include:

  • Criminal charges: This often depends on the specific circumstances of the case. Strictly speaking, though, parental kidnapping is treated as a class 4 felony. This carries with it fines of up to $2000 and, in severe cases, up to 6 years in prison.
  • Civil action: When a parent is found to have committed parental kidnapping, they’re also violating the rights of the custodial parent. This means they may be able to pursue legal action to strengthen or adjust the court-ordered custody arrangement. The court may modify existing custody orders, restrict the parental rights of the offending party, or impose supervised visitation to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. The violating parent might also be financially responsible for the legal fees of the custodial parent.

It’s also worth considering that the consequences may well extend beyond the immediate aftermath of the custodial interference. A parent found guilty of parental kidnapping may experience challenges in future custody disputes. This is because the court usually considers past behavior when making decisions in the best interests of the child. The extreme actions related to kidnapping are likely to feature heavily in the court’s decision-making.

Wrapping Up

Parental kidnapping is a serious matter that — rightly — carries significant legal penalties. However, it’s also a highly nuanced issue that is wrapped in family dynamics, deep emotions, and complex influences. If you feel that some of the elements that may lead to parental kidnapping may be in place, it is vital to seek the assistance of your experienced divorce attorney. They’ll have a good understanding of your custody agreement and help you navigate various solutions. After all, preventing this issue from arising is far preferable to the damage that custodial interference may bring for everyone involved.