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What Is the Law on Parental Kidnapping in Pennsylvania?

According to The Herald of Sharon, Pennsylvania, a Sharpsville man was recently charged with the murder of his girlfriend and the kidnapping of their eight-month-old daughter. If the authorities are correct, this is a shocking crime to contemplate. But, unfortunately, child custody disputes often cross the line from civil court disputes to criminal violations. Although rare cases erupt in violence, it is much more common for a frustrated parent to unwittingly commit the serious crime of parental kidnapping.

According to Chapter 29 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, parental kidnapping, also called interference with custody of children, occurs when someone “knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any child under the age of 18 years from the custody of its parent, guardian or other lawful custodian, when he has no privilege to do so.” Whether the “abducting” parent has the “privilege” to take the child depends first on the existing custody order and then on circumstances that justify the taking.

Defenses to a charge of parental kidnapping include:

  • Privilege under the existing custody order
  • A reasonable belief that the taking was necessary to protect the child from danger
  • The taking of a child at least 14 years old happened at the child’s instigation and without any criminal purpose

Although custody disputes are generally civil court matters, parental kidnapping or custodial interference is a third-degree felony. However, it could also be a:

  • Second-degree felony — If the person who removes the child is not a parent and knows taking the child would cause alarm for the child’s safety, or acts in reckless disregard of causing alarm.
  • Second-degree misdemeanor — If the parent who takes the child has partial custody or visitation under an existing order and takes the child for good cause for 24 hours or less, and does not remove the child from the state.

If you are arrested for parental kidnapping, don’t rely on your divorce lawyer for help. You need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to protect you from such serious charges.

David R. Eshelman defends individuals accused of misdemeanor and felony crimes in the Reading area. If you are charged with a crime, protect your rights by meeting with criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman today.


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