By: Mary Agramonte
In most divorce and child custody cases, the Judge will issue an order or decree for parents to abide by as it relates to the parenting time, visitation, and responsibilities for each parent. When one parent fails to follow the order, a family law case can quickly turn criminal. In Georgia, the crime is known as Interference with Custody and is codified at O.C.G.A. § 16–5–45. A criminal arrest and prosecution can occur when one parent keeps the child past the visitation time that was ordered in the plan.
Under O.C.G.A. § 16–5–45, a person can be charged with Interference with Custody when they knowingly or recklessly take or entice the child away from the individual who has lawful custody. In this scenario, a felony Kidnapping charge can also occur. A person commits crime of kidnapping when they steal away another person without lawful authority to do so.
However, the more common way Georgia parents find themselves being arrested for Interference of Custody is where one parent intentionally retains possession of he child past the lawful visitation time disclosed in the order. This can even happen when the parent keeps the child an extra day past their mandated week or day of visitation.
A third way a person can be charge with Interference with Custody occurs when he or she harbors a child who has run away. This means you can be charged under this statute even if you are not the parent. If a child runs away from home and stays at your house, you can be charged for harboring the run away and be subject to criminal penalties.
The Interference with Custody statute in Georgia applies to all children under the age of 17, or children under age of 18 if they are alleged to be a ‘dependent child or child in need of services.’
What is the punishment for Interference with Custody in Georgia?
On a first conviction, the case is treated as a misdemeanor, with the penalties to include one to five months in jail, and/or a fine between $200 and $500. On a second conviction, the case is still treated as a misdemeanor but will include a minimum three months in jail, up to 12 months, as well as a higher fine in the amount of at least $400.00. The stakes get much higher on a third conviction of Interference of Custody. In this instance, the person accused of Interfering with Custody will be charged with a Felony offense. Felonies are treated more harshly in the justice system, and Judges can sentence up to five years to serve on a third conviction.
Interstate Inference with Custody has Increased Penalties
A person commits the offense of Interstate Interference of Custody when without lawful authority to do so the person knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any minor away from the individual who has lawful custody of such minor, and in so doing brings the minor into Georgia or removes the minor from Georgia. This can apply in child custody issues where the person keeps the child longer than the period of lawful visitation. Interstate Interference of Custody is a felony in Georgia with a punishment, if convicted of the crime, of 1 to 5 years imprisonment.
Defenses to Interference with Custody include challenging the venue where the case is brought, meaning that jurisdiction has to be the correct county to be able to prosecute the person accused of the crime. For example, when a parent lawfully removes child from state, but unlawfully retains custody out of state, the county of custodial parent, would be venue of any criminal prosecution. Oftentimes the police get involved where the child is taken, and the defense can lie in what county brings the charges. Additionally, the substance of the child custody order or decree can offer defenses. As in all cases, each and every element of the statute has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to be convicted of any crime.
The purpose of the Georgia law criminalizing interference with custody is to protect custody interests of child’s lawful custodian from interference by another person. Child custody and divorce cases are not the only types of cases where the person can be charged under this statute. A person can be charged under this statute in child abduction scenarios, as well as situations where the child is in an unlawful physical relationship with an older person.
If you or a loved one has been charged with Interference of Custody, or have any questions about the crime in Georgia, call W. Scott Smith for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.