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Understanding custodial interference in Tennessee

The intense level of emotion that often accompanies a divorce can drive one or both parties to make unwise and harmful decisions about each other or their children. One of the most destructive such choices is the involuntary removal of a child from the custody of the parent who has been awarded legal custody. The action, known as “custodial interference,” can involve either incompetent adults or children. In this post, we will focus on children.

In many divorces, the parents are able to agree on joint child custody and visitation arrangements, but in some cases, the court must decide which parent should have physical custody of the child (or children). The order determining child custody is binding on both parents, but occasionally, the parent who is denied custody elects to take out his or her anger at such an order by abducting the child.

Custodial interference includes both removing the child from the state in violation of a custody order or harboring or hiding the child inside or outside Tennessee. The abductor must know that the abduction or concealment violates a court order. A person also commits custodial interference by detaining the child after the expiration of a period of lawful visitation. A person accused of custodial interference can defend the removal or concealment by showing that he or she reasonably believed that the failure to remove the child would have subjected the child’s health and safety to a “clear and present danger.” If the child is returned to the custodial parent voluntarily, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor; otherwise, it is a Class E felony.

Anyone accused of custodial interference is facing a serious criminal charge, and a consultation with an experienced family attorney can provide several benefits. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide an analysis of the facts, an enumeration of potential defenses and an estimate of obtaining a favorable plea agreement or outright acquittal.