If you and your ex-spouse have children, your custody dispute might not have ended when your divorce finalized. Though you two established a binding child custody agreement, your ex-spouse may flout it at every turn. Their actions may make it difficult for you to see your children, even when it is your time to have them. In extreme cases, your ex-spouse’s behavior could qualify as childsnatching.

Understanding childsnatching

In Rhode Island, childsnatching refers to any intentional removal or detention of a child – under age 18 – that denies a parent custody based on an existing agreement. Your ex-spouse’s violations of your custody agreement could meet its threshold if:

  • They routinely return your children to you late after their scheduled custody or visitation
  • They fail to return your children to you after their scheduled custody or visitation
  • They take your children from you during your scheduled custody or visitation
  • They move your children out of the state or country without your consent

The consequences for childsnatching

If your ex-spouse has engaged in childsnatching, they could face felony criminal charges. Keep in mind, though, that they may try mounting an affirmative defense of their actions. Under Rhode Island law, your ex-spouse can do so if any of the following are true:

  • They had lawful custody of your children when you alleged the childsnatching occurred
  • They were unable to return your children to you due to circumstances out of their control, which they notified you of
  • You have a history of domestic violence and they were trying to protect your children

Barring any affirmative defenses, your ex-spouse’s consequences, if convicted of childsnatching, could be stiff. They could face up to two years in prison, pay a fine of up to $10,000 or both. Furthermore, it is likely your custody agreement will change as a result of their actions.

As a parent, protecting and preserving your relationship with your children is likely a top priority for you. If your ex-spouse interferes with your ability to do so, a family law attorney can help you hold them accountable.