Is denying access to a child's phone an act of discipline or an act of theft?
An interesting case was just decided in Dallas where a jury found a Father not guilty of theft for taking away his daughter’s cell phone as punishment. More information can be found here. This is a unique case and I have personally never heard of anyone being prosecuted for taking their child’s cell phone away as punishment in Florida. The Father in the Dallas case took his daughter’s phone away as punishment because his daughter was sending inappropriate text messages. However, the phone in question was purchased by the child’s mother. It goes without saying that the mother and father are no longer together and have long ago separated. The mother was upset that the father took away the child’s cell phone because she paid for the phone and she paid for the cell phone plan.
Four hours after the father took the iPhone away from the child as punishment, police officers showed up at his door demanding that he return the phone. The father thought that it was inappropriate for them to demand such and that police officers should not interfere with his ability to parent his daughter. He was ultimately issued a citation in the mail for theft of property less than $50 dollars, a misdemeanor. The father hired an attorney and fought the charge. The father actually ended up arrested and bailed out of jail for $1,500. The court in Dallas eventually held a two day trial where the mother and the minor child both testified about the father taking the minor child’s cell phone.
Ultimately the Father was found not guilty of the charge. But, I have to wonder at what cost? At this point his daughter wants nothing to do with him and all relationship has been lost. The father now plans to file a civil law suit against the police department for civil rights violations. It’s worth noting that I practice law in Florida, and not Texas. I have never heard of any parent in Florida being charged with a crime for taking a child’s cell phone away as punishment. Personally, I think that a law enforcement officer in Florida would decline to get involved in this matter and instruct the parent to take the matter up in civil court. But, this issue is fairly fascinating because a lot of my clients use a child’s cell phone as a disciplinary tool. I also see many parents get very upset if they cannot contact their child while the child is at the other parents house and that other parent took the phone away from the child as punishment. It’s worth noting that the father still has the iPhone in his possession, however he’s lost his relationship with his daughter. In this modern day world of technology where every one has a cell phone, including a minor child, these kind of issues are important to discuss with your family law attorney. Ultimately, it is my advice that, yes, you may take your child’s cell phone away as punishment, unless your parenting plan specifically states otherwise.
If you have any questions related to family law or require legal assistance in other areas of Family Law you may always contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.