We are frequently asked on family law matters, should the person call the police? It many times involves visitation disputes, and sometimes property disputes.
The general answer I give is no, because in most cases, I don’t find that the police will intervene, since no crimes have been committed, and many times, the police inform the litigants, that the matter is a civil dispute and they have to take it up in court anyhow.
Further, if you call the police every time you have a dispute involving your divorce case or post divorce matter, eventually, the police will just consider you a nuisance, and should a serious domestic disturbance arise or a real crime has been committed, the police will not take you seriously, when you need them to.
There are circumstances when, of course, it is necessary to call the police. One of those circumstances that I can think of involves a 948.31 violation. Sec. 948.31 is the felony kidnapping statute in Wisconsin, entitled “Interference with custody by parent or others.” The statute in part, reads as follows;
” (b) Except as provided under chs. 48 and 938, whoever intentionally causes a child to leave, takes a child away or withholds a child for more than 12 hours beyond the court-approved period of physical placement or visitation period from a legal custodian with intent to deprive the custodian of his or her custody rights without the consent of the custodian is guilty of a Class F felony.”
The statute goes on to state that “This paragraph is not applicable if the court has entered an order authorizing the person to so take or withhold the child. The fact that joint custody has been awarded to both parents by a court does not preclude a court from finding that one parent has committed a violation of this paragraph.”
In thirty four years of practice, I have seen only one case where someone was at risk for being criminally charged in violation of this statute. Those types of situations usually involve kidnapping the child. For your day to day conflicts over return times, locations, and holiday disputes, my experience is typically law enforcement does not like to get involved in family law disputes over custody and placement. However, in a case where a visiting parent has exceeded their placement for the 12 hours indicated in the statute, and they absolutely will not return the children, over the objections of the custodial parent, in that case, it may be appropriate to contact local law enforcement to intervene.
Another good reason not to call the police every time there is a dispute involving your children or property issues as part of the divorce, is what emotional impact that may have on your children. Depending on their age, what will the children think if every time there is a visitation dispute, a squad car is pulling up to their home and questioning their parents on the civil court orders or asking to see the children to see if they are o.k. Children love both their parents and whatever the parties’ bitter feelings are towards one another, you have to take a step back and look at it through your children’s eyes, in terms of how things look to them.
So, the next time your soon to be ex spouse ticks you off, and is late returning the children from their visitation or placement with the other parent, and you are tempted to call the police, think of what impact that may have on your children when the police show up at your door, just as your spouse is pulling up the driveway, or if the police advise you to call your lawyer as this is a civil matter, how frustrated you will feel with the process of having involved law enforcement in the first place.
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