SALT LAKE CITY — Arlet Falslev was 17 months old when she was taken from her father.
She was 9 when she was found with her mother in Minnesota and returned to Utah, where she was reunited with her dad — a man she didn't remember.
Terryl Warner, Cache County's director of victim services, told state lawmakers about the case of parental kidnapping Thursday. The girl's mother, she said, still has visitation rights, but now she must wear an ankle bracelet broadcasting her whereabouts.
Warner testified in support of a bill that would classify parental kidnapping as a new offense. HB173, sponsored by Rep. Val Potter, R-North Logan, defines the offense as one parent withholding another parent's right to see their child in such a way that they cannot resolve the conflict through civil remedies.
The first two offenses of parental kidnapping would be a class B misdemeanor, with a third being a class A misdemeanor. A third-degree felony charge would apply to parents taking children out of state.
"We are asking you to pass this amendment that allows us to prosecute when an order is not in place and a child goes missing," Warner said.
Parental interference only applies in cases where a custody order was already in place. HB173 would change the standard to allow prosecution without an existing custody order, she said.
"The intent is to go after the parent that takes the child, that deprives the other parent of the association with that child for months or even years," Potter said.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously agreed to send the bill to the House floor for further debate.
Will Carlson, representing the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, spoke against the bill.Comment on this story
"We should not be bringing that heavy hammer of criminal law into the early stages of a family separation, and that is what this bill threatens to do," Carlson said.
Parental interference is a term that is often exploited by one parent when the other parent is only a few minutes late returning a child to their custodial parent, he said.
"We want to honor a parent’s right to be able to address these matters in front of a civil court," said Spencer Walsh, Cache County deputy attorney.
"If one parent completely prevents the other parent from having their day in court in front of a civil judge, that is wrong," Walsh said.