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Parental Kidnapping in Virginia

KidnappingUnder Virginia law, is it possible for a parent to kidnap his or her own kid? People in general seem to understand that kidnapping or childnapping involves the “taking” of a child. However, the underlying presumption many make is that the “taking” is of someone else’s child. How could it ever be illegal for a parent to take custody of their own child?

Virginia law is clear: anyone, even parents, can be convicted of kidnapping their children. However, the consequences are much worse if the child is removed from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Virginia Code § 18.2-47 states that any person who, by force, intimidation or deception, and without legal justification or excuse, seizes, takes, transports, detains or secretes another person with the intent to deprive such other person of his personal liberty or to withhold or conceal him from any person, authority or institution lawfully entitled to his charge, shall be deemed guilty of “abduction.” The terms “abduction” and “kidnapping” are synonymous and therefore interchangeable under the Virginia Code.

If the kidnapping is committed by the parent of the person abducted and punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending, the offense shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor in addition to being punishable as contempt of court. However, such offense (parental kidnapping punishable as contempt of court in any proceeding then pending), where the person abducted is removed from the Commonwealth by the abducting parent, shall be a Class 6 felony in addition to being punishable as contempt of court.

A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of $2,500 and a jail sentence of up to one year. In contrast, a Class 6 felony is also punishable by a fine of $2,500, but the potential jail sentence is between one and five years.

Do not be confused as to whether a parent can be found guilty of kidnapping his or her own child in Virginia—the answer is yes. This does not mean that a parent with custody concerns is without options. Custody is always modifiable in Virginia if there has been a change in circumstances, and depending on the issues an emergency custody filing may be appropriate.

If you find yourself involved in a custody dispute, it is best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of experienced family lawyers across offices in Fairfax, Arlington, Ashburn, Manassas, and Fredericksburg, representing clients across Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

See also: The Hague Convention and International Child Abduction