When a parent defies a family law custody order in Pennsylvania and leaves the state with the child, the parent becomes a fugitive from both federal and state charges. The federal authorities will usually act to track the fugitive parent and return him or her to the location of the original custody order. Criminal defense counsel may develop some viable defenses to the charges when the parent is returned to the Commonwealth for prosecution.
That is exactly the kind of scenario that was brought to a climax recently in response to an airing of HLN's "The Hunt with John Walsh." The show highlighted the disappearance of a mother and her four-year-old son after a Pennsylvania state court ordered the mother to share physical custody of her son with the father. Instead of honoring the order, she allegedly fled by bus with her son in Nov. 2014. The television show gave the nation the details of the case and alerted the country to the fact that the mother and her child were living undetected in some other locale.
The FBI announced that tips from residents of Raymond, Washington, resulted in locating and arresting the mother. Authorities found the child in a local school and took custody of him through child protective services pending arrival in that state of the father. When the mother is returned to Pennsylvania, she will face charges of interference with custody of children and concealment of the whereabouts of a child.
In addition to Pennsylvania criminal charges, federal charges are also pending for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The woman will have a full opportunity to defend against the charges. In some cases, there may be convincing mitigating circumstances that have led a parent to abscond in the belief that her child faced danger if turned over to the other parent. Criminal defense counsel will develop each of those kinds of mitigating reasons in an attempt to ameliorate the punishment and help return the domestic situation back to a working parental relationship.
Source: fbi.gov, "Tips from Public Lead to Arrest of Pennsylvania Fugitive, Recovery of Child: FBI", Sept. 18, 2017