withholding a child

What can I do when the other parent is withholding a child? Family law is one of the most dramatic and emotional areas of law.  This is because there is usually a lot of anger, people are usually at a low point in their lives, and sometimes people are not thinking clearly when making decisions.  This is especially true when children are involved.


In family law cases, children are usually at the center of the content of the fight. Unfortunately, they are often used as weapons, negotiating tools, and bargaining chips. In this blog, we will discuss that. Specifically, we will address what happens when the other parent is withholding a child. Withholding a child is quite common, and we will explain what we mean by this.  Like all of our other blogs, this blog is intended for informational purposes only, and not as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a family law attorney.

What we mean by withholding a child

We are referring to when one parent has physical “possession” of a child and they refuse to let the other parent see that child.  This occurs for many reasons, and with many so-called justifications by the other parent. Common reasons we have seen include, but are not limited to the following:

  • “You’re behind on child support, so I am not going to let you see our child until you catch up”
  • “You were absent in her life for years and now all of a sudden you want to come around, I don’t think so”
  • “You just started dating someone new, I don’t know her, so you can’t see your child”
  • “I don’t approve of the way you are living, so you can’t see your child”

When there is no Child Custody order in place

When this situation occurs and the parties do not have a Child Custody order through the court system, the options become a little limited.  Under the law, both parents have rights to their children. If you don’t have a custody and visitation schedule through the courts, it is hard to make the argument that the other party is doing something wrong. Note that the police will not get involved.

Contrary to popular belief, this usually isn’t seen as kidnapping.  Kidnapping is a very specific law, it is not intended to deal with domestic disputes involving two upset parents.

When there is a child custody order in place

When a court order is in place that specifies the child custody arrangement, the aggrieved parent has more options.  Failure to follow a child custody order can lead to an action of criminal contempt or civil contempt.  In such cases, that courts can and will get involved if you want them to.

We don’t recommend it

In general, withholding a child is not something we recommend doing. In a child custody trial, these things will come to light and likely make you look bad and have a negative impact on your case. There is almost always some productive way to work something like this out, which is best for the child and best for both parents and doesn’t include using a kid as leverage.

If you have concerns about child custody or other family matters, contact us.  Don’t make an impulsive decision that will cause you more problems later, and don’t just accept not being able to see your child, without first getting some legal advice.

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