The California crime of parental child abduction occurs when a family member, usually a parent, kidnaps and conceals a child for any length of time. It is a serious crime. Parental child abduction in California often occurs when the parents separate or begin divorce proceedings.
Under California Penal Code 278, child abduction basically means violating another person's right to physical custody or visitation of a child. A violation may result from taking, enticing away, keeping, withholding, or concealing the child. The term “child abduction” refers to parental-type abductions, not to kidnapping by a stranger.
The law focuses mainly on the rights of the left-behind parent, not the rights of the abducting parent. If the left-behind parent has a right to joint custody or to visitation, then it may be child abduction for another parent to violate that right. A natural parent as defined by California law automatically has a right to physical custody of his or her child.
If you have a legal right to physical custody, you may withhold a child for a longer period of time, if necessary to protect the child. But you must also follow these steps required by law—
- You must file a “Good Cause” report with the district attorney as soon as reasonably possible. Any delay beyond ten days may subject you to prosecution for child abduction. Forms for making a “Good Cause” report can be found at:
- You must also seek a court order granting you custody. Your request must be filed with the court as soon as reasonably possible. Any delay beyond 30 days may subject you to prosecution for child abduction.
If you do not have a legal right to physical custody of the child, you should immediately contact law enforcement or a child protective agency to report the danger. You may not withhold the child any longer than necessary to contact law enforcement or a child protective agency.
If you have been accused of child abduction, you will competent and experienced legal defense. Contact our office to discuss the details of your case. Also refer to our article, "Interfering with a parent's visitation rights under California law."