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What is Custodial Interference?

The crime of custodial interference is found in the chapter of the Revised Code of Washington that covers kidnapping and other unlawful imprisonment. Custodial interference involves situations where a parent or other relative of a child disrupts the physical custody of that child, exposes the child to a substantial risk of illness or physical injury, or removes the child out of state. Custodial interference can also be charged in situations where a person that is unrelated to a child causes that child to be removed from his or her usual state of residence, so long as that unrelated person was acting under the direction of a child's parent. Depending on the circumstances, custodial interference can be charged as a gross misdemeanor or a more serious felony.

Moving forward, this page takes a look at the felony of “custodial interference” in order to explain the basic charge, identify examples of conduct that can lead a person to being charged with custodial interference in Washington State, and discuss the potential ramifications to an individual found guilty of this felony.

Custodial Interference in the First Degree

Washington State defines the crime of custodial interference differently depending on whether the individual being charged is (a) the child's parent, (b) some other relative of the child, or (c) someone unrelated to the child who is acting under the direction of the child's parent.

  • Custodial interference by a Parent or other Relative:
  • Custodial interference by an Unrelated Individual:

Cases of custodial interference come up when one parent hides or keeps a child from his or her other parent. According to RCW 9A.40.060, a parent of a child is guilty of custodial interference in the first degree if that parent “takes, entices, retains, detains, or conceals the child” with the intent to deny access of the other parent to his or her child. If there is a court-ordered parenting plan in place that describes the manner in which a child is to spend his or her time between two parents, then a parent can only be charged with custodial interference in the first degree if, in addition to the taking or concealing described above, the parent also:

  • Intends to hold the child permanently or for a long period of time;
  • Exposes the child to a substantial risk of illness or physical injury; or
  • Causes the child to be removed from the state where the child usually lives.

Custodial interference charges are not limited just to parents either. Per RCW 9A.40.060(1), a relative of a child – defined as any ancestor, descendant, or sibling of the child, whether by blood, marriage, or adoption – can also be charged with custodial interference in the first degree. If the relative takes or conceals a child from a parent, guardian, or other institution or agency that has a lawful right to physical custody of the child, the relative is also guilty of custodial interference if, in addition to the taking or concealing, the relative also:

  • Intends to hold the child permanently or for a long period of time;
  • Exposes the child to a substantial risk of illness or physical injury; or
  • Causes the child to be removed from the state where the child usually lives; or
  • Conceals the child in a different state after the expiration of any authorized visitation period in order to intimidate one of the child's parents, or keep that parent from regaining custody.

Interference with the custody of a child can also be committed by a person wholly unrelated to the child, provided that person is acting under the directions of a parent and there is no lawful custody order in place. In these circumstances, under RCW 9A.40.060(3), an unrelated person that “intentionally takes, entices, retains, or conceals” a child from the child's other parent in order to keep the other parent from having access to the child for a long period of time (or permanently) has committed the crime of custodial interference in the first degree.

No matter whether the individual charged is a parent, relative, or unrelated individual, custodial interference in the first degree is a class C felony, which can be punished by a jail term of up to five years. See RCW 9A.40.060(3) andRCW 9A.20.021(1)(c). Adult offenders may also face a fine of up to $10,000, which can be levied in addition to, or instead of, jail time.

Custodial Interference in the Second Degree

Washington State also criminalizes interference with the custody of a child under the lesser crime of custodial interference in the second degree. The lesser charge may apply in situations where a parent or relative of a child takes or conceals a child without the intent to hold the child for a long period or time, or in a manner that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of illness or physical injury. Custodial interference in the second degree also applies when a parent has not complied with the residential provisions of a court-ordered parenting plan after having been found in contempt, as well as when a court finds that the parent has engaged in a pattern of willful violations of the court-ordered residential provisions.

A person's first conviction for custodial interference in the second degree is a gross misdemeanor, which can be punished by a jail term of up to one year. See RCW 9A.40.070(4)(a) andRCW 9A.20.021(2). Adult offenders may also face a fine of up to $5,000, which can be levied in addition to, or instead of, jail time. Further convictions for custodial interference in the second degree are a class C felony, which can be punished by a jail term of up to five years, as well as a $10,000 fine for adult offenders.

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”

Custodial interference is a serious charge and can have dramatic consequences for a parent, relative, or even an unrelated individual. If you have been accused of custodial interference, you need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Steve Karimi today – our firm is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and freedom. Experienced criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi will take all measures necessary to fight for your legal rights and to advocate for your best interests. As a former prosecutor, he understands the options available to you and will use his experience to achieve the best possible resolution for you. 24-hour service is available at 206-660-6200.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.