Custodial Interference vs. Kidnapping—What’s the Difference?

man walking in a field with three children-custodial interference vs kidnapping

Custodial Interference vs. Kidnapping—What’s the Difference?

Even though it’s sometimes called “custodial kidnapping,” custodial interference is not the same thing as kidnapping. Typically, custodial interference is a misdemeanor crime, while kidnapping is always a felony. 

You could benefit from a consultation with a criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with custodial interference or kidnapping. Read on to learn more about the difference between these two charges, and the possible defenses. 


What Is Custodial Interference?

A custody agreement is what makes custodial interference possible and punishable. For example, if a married couple has a child, and both parents are named on the birth certificate, they both have equal custody of the child. 

Custodial interference typically happens when one parent tries to move the child away from the other parent without permission. This charge can also apply to an impaired adult under care. But custodial Interference does not only include taking a child or impaired adult away from their guardian. In fact, there are several other things that would qualify for this charge. 

Examples of custodial interference include:

  • Keeping a child or impaired adult for longer than has been discussed or approved
  • Taking a child or impaired adult over state lines without the knowledge or permission of the other custodian 
  • Enticing a child or impaired adult away from their other custodian

Defenses for Custodial Interference

These types of cases can be extremely difficult to handle on your own, and if charged, you should definitely consult a lawyer. Here are some examples of the possible defenses in a custodial interference case:

  • The defendant reasonably believes that the child is in immediate danger (for example, a drunk parent trying to drive while the child is in the vehicle)
  • The defendant is a victim of domestic violence and feels the child or impaired adult is in danger if left in the other guardian’s custody 

Punishments for Custodial Interference

The punishments for violating a custody agreement can range between a class 1 misdemeanor and a class 3 felony. However, it is usually only a misdemeanor if the child or impaired adult is returned within 48 hours. 

  • Class 1 Misdemeanor: Up to $2,500 in fines, and up to 6 months in jail, as well as other punishments like community service, probation or restitution
  • Class 3 Felony: Ranges from 2 years to 25 years in prison
  • Class 4 Felony: 1 year to 15 years in prison
  •  Class 6 Felony: 3 months to 5 years in prison


What Qualifies as Kidnapping?

The Arizona penal code defines kidnapping as the illegal restraint of another person with the intent to harm them. Examples of kidnapping can include:

  • Holding someone for ransom
  • Using a person for a shield, or hostage to take over a vehicle
  • Holding a person for involuntary servitude
  • Taking someone with the intent to kill or maim them
  • Taking someone with the intent to commit a sexual offense
  • Taking someone to force them (or another) to aid in committing a felony
  • Holding someone to interfere with government or politics

Punishments for Kidnapping

Because kidnapping is a felony crime, it is a more serious matter than most custodial interference cases. The only times a sentence can be lessened are when the victim is released without injury in a safe place. All felonies carry some prison time, along with the loss of certain civil rights. 

  • Class 2 Felony: 3 years to 10 years in prison
  • Class 3 Felony: 2 years to 7 years in prison
  • Class 4 Felony: 1 year to 15 years in prison


Always Consult A Lawyer if You Are Arrested or Charged 

Custodial interference and kidnapping are two very different charges, however, it is possible to be charged with both. If the person who committed the custodial interference also met one of the criteria for kidnapping, they could face charges for both crimes.

Due to the complicated nature of custody cases, you should always contact a lawyer if you have been charged or arrested for kidnapping or custodial interference. A criminal defense attorney like Todd Coolidge who knows the ins and outs of the Arizona justice system could be just what you need to keep yourself out of prison. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.


Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/6/23). Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash.