Contempt of Court for Child Custody

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 How is Child Custody Defined?

In family law, child custody refers to various parental rights that a parent has when raising their child and making decisions on their behalf. Child custody rights permit a parent to make legal and medical decisions on behalf of their child. Any custody decision is made pursuant to the child’s best interest standard.

There are many different variations of child custody arrangements. For example, in joint custody, the parents share custody of the child. With sole custody, one parent cares for the child.

Physical custody refers to which parent a child resides with and which parent provides for the child’s needs on a daily basis. Legal custody refers to which parent has legal rights regarding the children and who gets to make decisions on their behalf, such as medical, educational, and religious decisions.

When a court determines child custody, the court examines a variety of factors, which may include:

  • Whether or not a custody agreement already exists;
  • The desires of the child’s parents regarding custody;
  • The child’s desires;
  • Each parent’s ability to emotionally, mentally, and physically care for the child;
  • Whether or not any changes will be made to the child’s upbringing, such as their school, daycare, after-school programs, or other activities that are location-specific; and
  • Whether or not there is a history of abuse or neglect.

The child’s best interest standard governs child custody and visitation issues. It attempts to provide a standard by which the child’s best interests are most important and not the desires or preferences of either parent.

In previous times, primary custody was often automatically awarded to the mother. This practice was based on the presumption that, in most cases, women are natural caretakers for children. However, custody arrangements in the United States have moved away from these presumptions, as parental arrangements become more varied.

It is important to note that custody and visitation laws vary from state to state. Because of this, the laws governing a case in one state will be different from another. Therefore, it is important for parents to have a lawyer who can explain their specific rights.

What Happens if My Ex Violated a Custody Order?

A child custody order often arises out of situations involving divorce or legal separation. These orders typically address the issues of child custody and visitation

In some cases, the parents of the child can come to an agreement regarding legal custody. This may include which parent has primary or sole custody or if the parents will share joint custody. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, the court will make a determination.

A custody order can provide parents with peace of mind when they are determining who has primary responsibility for their child. In general, family courts favor a joint custody arrangement which allows the children to have continued full access to each parent. This also ensures both the continuing involvement of both parents in the child’s life.

Joint custody may be appropriate when the child lives geographically close to both parents, especially if it will reduce disruptions to the child’s school schedule. The age and maturity level of the child also influence the decision. 

No matter what type of custody arrangement is ordered, the court will detail which parent will be responsible for the child’s physical living arrangement. The order will also detail which parent will be responsible for the child’s well-being, educational, and medical needs.

The violation of a custody order is actually a form of breaking the law. Because the custody order is a court order, both parents are bound by it. When one parent violates the order, there are legal consequences. 

The most common violation of a custody order involves one parent being late to pick up the child or late dropping off the child. This may disrupt the child’s overall schedule, causing undue stress and anxiety.

These types of violations may also interfere with the custody or visitation rights of the other parent. A divorce alone is often extremely difficult for a child. The addition of a parent failing to meet their obligations or arguing with the other parent in front of the child can make the process even more traumatic.

Another type of violation may occur when a parent fails to show up for a planned exchange of the child or children. This can be due to negligence or forgetfulness of the date. However, in some cases, a parent may decide to take the child of vacation or out of town without the court’s permission. This may lead to serious issues for the parent and the child.

What Should I Do if My Ex Violates a Custody Order?

If an individual’s ex-spouse violates a custody order, an individual should consider whether or not police action is necessary. If an individual believes their ex-spouse has kidnapped the child, called parental kidnapping, or they don’t know where the child and parent are, the individual may need to call 911 immediately. Local law enforcement may need to be involved in finding the children and bringing them home safely.

If an individual’s ex-spouse crosses state lines when violating the order, the FBI may get involved because federal laws may have been violated. If the situation is not an emergency, an individual may attempt to work things out with their ex-spouse without police involvement. However, in some cases, this may prove to be an unwise decision.

For example, an individual’s ex-spouse may attempt to continue to take advantage of the other spouse in the future by continuously violating the custody order. This may cause further stress for the child and non-violating parent. The best course of action is for the non-violating parent to file a motion for contempt against the violating spouse. 

What is a Motion for Contempt of Court?

A motion for contempt of court in a child custody proceeding alleges that one of the ex-spouses violated the court’s custody order. This may occur when the ex-spouse either does something or fails to do something specified in the order. The non-violating parent must serve the motion on the other parent, who will then have a limited amount of time to respond.

After the time period passes, a hearing will be set. At this hearing, the parent will argue their motion for contempt of court. It is essential to have an attorney assist with this process to ensure the motion is articulated properly. 

The parent who filed the motion will be required to present documentation and evidence to prove that the other parent violated the custody order. They may also call witnesses to testify on their behalf at the hearing. It is highly recommended that the children do not attend these hearings, as they may be traumatizing.

There are two main types of contempt, civil contempt and criminal contempt. An individual may be held in criminal contempt when they misbehave in a courtroom, such as yelling or acting violent. An individual may be held in contempt for child custody matters when they fail to obey a judge’s order, such as failing to obey custody orders.

Violation of a court order will often result in a finding of civil contempt and the party found in contempt will be sanctioned. Sanctions, or contempt of court for child custody penalties may include:

  • Awarding sole custody to the other parent;
  • Reducing visitation;
  • Requiring court-supervised visitation;
  • Criminal charges
  • Jail time; and
  • Monetary fines.

It is important to note that failing to pay child support may also be considered a form of contempt of court. In other words, failing to pay child support may result in a jail sentence. If an individual is unable to pay child support, they should be prepared to show their financial records in court and file a petition to reduce their child support payments.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Child Custody Contempt of Court Issue?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced child custody lawyer for any child custody contempt of court issues you may face. Your attorney will review your case, determine how to best present evidence to the court, and represent you during any court proceedings. Child custody rights are very important for everyone involved, especially the child, and a lawyer is your best chance at protecting them.


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