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Contempt Proceedings in Custody Matters

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The Penalties and ramifications for non-compliance with a lawful custody order are severe.  Further, disobedience may lead to an alteration of the custodial schedule.

By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Family Law Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

A lawfully executed and entered custody order serves as the appropriate basis to petition the court for contempt of its order if violated.  Typically, a single instance of the violation of a court order will not be the grounds for a contempt petition.  In instances of willful violation of the order, grounds may exist to petition the court to fine and imprison the contemptuous party. 

The obstruction of a noncustodial parent's rights to contacts with the child is an extremely serious matter, especially when it violates court-ordered visitation or partial custody.  When a custodial parent obstructs the visits between the child and the noncustodial parent, such that the best interests of the child are no longer being served, a change of custody may be warranted.  However, willful interference with court ordered visitations, no matter how deplorable, cannot be made the basis for an "automatic" change of custody.  Isolated violations must be viewed within the framework of the entire custody arrangement, and an isolated violation will not automatically trigger transfer of custody.

What can the court do to enforce its Order?

Contempt for noncompliance with visitation or partial custody order is punishable by any one or more of the following:

• Imprisonment for a period not to exceed that period set by statute

• A fine not to exceed $500

• Probation for a period not to exceed six months

• An order for nonrenewal, suspension, or denial of operating privilege pursuant to the statute relating to the denial or suspension of licenses.

If you are involved in a custody matter that has become heated, the best thing to do is to walk away.  Contact an attorney in the morning.  Do not take matters into your own hands.  The fact that a court order has been entered does not give the party the right to enforce it themselves.  Let the courts and the authorities do their job.  Contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us day or night for a response.

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