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Legal Information: Arizona

Parental Kidnapping

Laws current as of December 12, 2023

If there is no legal decision-making and parenting time order, is it against the law for me to take my kids away from the other parent?

In Arizona, a parent can be charged with the crime of custodial interference  if s/he takes, entices (persuades) or withholds any child from the other parent and denies that parent access to any child even before there is a court order regarding legal decision-making and parenting time. S/he can also be charged if there is a joint legal decision-making order with the other parent.1 If the parent takes the child(ren) to another state, the penalties are more severe.2 However, there are some exceptions in the law, which involve a case where the parent has filed an emergency petition regarding custodial rights with the superior court and has received a hearing date from the court.3 The law is complicated and the risks are high – please get the advice of a lawyer before leaving with your child if at all possible. Go to our AZ Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.

If a domestic violence victim is charged with this crime, it could be a defense to the crime if s/he can prove that:

  • s/he has begun the process to get an order of protection or s/he files a petition for legal decision-making within a reasonable period of time and the order of protection or legal decision-making petition states his/her belief that the child was at risk if left with the other parent; AND
  • s/he either:
    • has a good faith and reasonable belief that the taking, enticing, or withholding of the child is necessary to protect the child from immediate danger; OR 
    • s/he is a victim of domestic violence by the other parent and has a good faith and reasonable belief that the child will be in immediate danger if the child is left with the other parent.4

However, once a person is charged with a crime, s/he may lose custody and suffer many consequences even if s/he may later be able to prove that s/he has a valid defense.  It is best to get legal advice before leaving to make sure that your planned behavior would not violate the law. 

Note: In the context of custodial interference, if a child is born out of wedlock, the mother is considered to be the legal custodian of the child until paternity is established and legal decision-making responsibilities are determined by a judge.5

1 A.R.S. § 13-1302(A)(2)
2 A.R.S. § 13-1302(E)(2)
3 A.R.S. § 13-1302(D)
4 A.R.S. § 13-1302(C)
5 A.R.S. § 13-1302(B)