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Child custody at risk over $5 sandwiches in Hawaii

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Child custody disputes in Texas and elsewhere are not always between parents, and they are not always fair. In a case where policy seems to have trumped reason, a pregnant mother and her husband were taken to jail, while their 2-year-old daughter was taken into custody by the state of Hawaii after the couple failed to pay for two chicken salad sandwiches at a Safeway in late October. The parents had relocated to the Aloha State two weeks before and were searching for a grocery store in Honolulu. They found Safeway and began shopping, but the expectant mother was starving, and the parents picked up and ate two sandwiches as they shopped. They went through the checkout line with the saved wrappers and paid for approximately $50 in groceries, but they forgot to pay for the sandwiches and had no idea such a simple act could be a threat to their child custody rights.

Stopped by a security guard at the exit, the parents were directed to the store's office. After explaining what happened and offering to pay, the manager said it was against store policy to accept payment for items that had left the store. The man and woman were detained for the police, who arrived three hours later, but then a terrible misunderstanding became an incomprehensible threat. The parents were placed under arrest, and Child Protective Services took the child away. In the span of a few hours, the father and pregnant mother had lost custody of their child over two chicken salad sandwiches.

The case quickly became an Internet sensation, and the power of the media led Safeway to issue an apology and drop all criminal charges. The parents were reunited with their toddler 18 hours later. However, the incident underscores the fact that even the most well-meaning people can find themselves in circumstances beyond their control.

While this matter was resolved within a day, other parents are not so lucky. In Texas, people enduring child custody problems sometimes do so for much longer. Parents facing such a situation should clearly be made aware of their rights. Without parents' awareness of their rights, what seems obviously wrong may be upheld by courts or other authorities.

Source: The Imperfect Parent, "Pregnant mom arrested at Safeway for $5 sandwich speaks out," Nov. 01, 2011

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