A custody case is usually contentious. At the point when the parties decide to get attorneys involved any hope of an agreed-upon resolution is probably lost. As an attorney, you will help your client fight through all the acrimony of mediation and conciliation – sometimes even a trial. It is exhausting. And then at some point, a decision is made about custody, and it is memorialized in an order of court. You discuss the order with your client, and if you are lucky it is an order that is workable by both parties.
The peace of this tenuous custody order is oftentimes broken by one party claiming that the other party has not abided by the order. Sometimes the accusation comes quickly, and sometimes it takes time. So, how do we go about resolving such a claim? … Well, in Pennsylvania a good place to start in the world of Custody law is Title 23 Chapter 53 – Child Custody. A careful examination of that chapter reveals that contempt does not appear as a stand-alone statute. Rather, the kind of contempt that applies to child custody (as opposed to the kind of contempt power that an MDJ has in a criminal matter, or the kind of contempt a common pleas Judge has when allegations of indirect criminal contempt have been made,) appears in §5323 (d):
(g) Contempt for noncompliance with any custody order.–
(1) A party who willfully fails to comply with any custody order may, as prescribed by general rule, be adjudged in contempt. Contempt shall be punishable by any one or more of the following:
(i) Imprisonment for a period of not more than six months.
(ii) A fine of not more than $500.
(iii) Probation for a period of not more than six months.
(iv) An order for nonrenewal, suspension or denial of operating privilege under section 4355 (relating to denial or suspension of licenses).
(v) Counsel fees and costs.
(2) An order committing an individual to jail under this section shall specify the condition which, when fulfilled, will result in the release of that individual.
So, if you have a custody order in place and one party isn’t abiding by it, then the primary way of resolving the issue is through a contempt proceeding. This is instituted by a filing with the court that issued the order. For further questions about this topic please contact me to set up a free brief initial consultation.