When courts make child custody decisions, they are doing their best to act in the child's best interests. Unfortunately, that doesn't always coincide perfectly with every parent's interest in seeing their child. Maybe you think your ex or someone in their life is a bad influence; maybe it feels like your ex moved too far away; or maybe you simply want more time with your child.
In any case, violating a custody order by taking your child without court permission is a serious legal offense, for which you can spend time in jail and have your visitation and custody rights further curtailed.
In Perfect Order
Custody orders aren't just in place to protect the wellbeing of the child. They also serve to put parents on notice about their legal rights when it comes to custody and visitation. Absent a specific court order regarding custody, it is difficult to enforce one parent's custody interests over another's. (Although, some states do have criminal statutes against depriving a lawful custodian a right of custody.)
But once the order is in place, proving and prosecuting parental abduction becomes much easier. Violating any court order may be prosecuting as a "contempt of court" charge, but many states have additional laws concerning violating a child custody order. And in most states it is a crime to refuse to return a child following visitation or withhold visitation (even if the other parent is not paying child support).
Kidnapping Your Own Kid
Violating a custody order, or the state laws that seek to enforce them, can get you arrested and sent to jail. After that, the other parent(s) may ask the court to revise the custody order, further restriction your custody and visitation rights. Over 200,000 children are kidnapped by a family member, usually a parent, every year, and federal and state law enforcement officers take parental abduction cases seriously. There are even federal statutes that require states to enforce custody orders issued by out-of-state courts.
If you disagree with a court's child custody order, your best bet is to petition the court for a modification, with compelling evidence supporting why the change is in your child's best interests. Taking matters -- by taking your child -- into your own hands is not only illegal, but you may end up losing what custody and visitation rights you currently have.