What Happens if You Disobey a Court Child Custody Order?

By Anna Green

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Whether the court has entered a permanent or temporary child custody order, parents are legally obligated to comply with all orders a judge signs. The exact penalties for disobeying a child custody order vary from state to state, but the consequences can include criminal charges, monetary fines and permanent loss of custody or visitation.

Custodial and Noncustodial Parents

Custodial parents can be deemed in breach of a child custody order if they withhold visitation privileges from the noncustodial parent or do not comply with the set visitation schedule. Thus, if a parent has concerns about a child’s safety based on the actions of the other parent, he should address the issue through the court system. For example, the parent could file an emergency motion to modify custody. Likewise, a noncustodial parent can breach a custody order if she does not return the child to the other parent as agreed.

Motion to Comply

If a parent disobeys a custody order, the other parent can file a motion with the court to require the other parent to comply with the original order. Additionally, a parent can file a motion to hold the noncustodial parent in contempt of court. If the court finds the noncustodial parent in contempt, the court will generally hold a show-cause hearing, where the parent who disobeyed the court order will have an opportunity to explain her actions to the judge.

Penalties and Remedies

As a remedy for breaching a child custody order, a judge may require the parent who disobeyed the initial ruling to pay any legal fees the other parent incurred because of the breach. Further, if a custodial parent disobeys the custody ruling, the court may grant the other parent additional visitation time to make up for the time lost with the child. Likewise, a judge may reverse her initial decision and grant sole custody to the noncustodial parent. In some instances, a parent who disobeys a court order can face criminal penalties, including fines or jail time. The judge may impose these severe penalties if a parent tries to permanently block custody or takes the child out of the state.

Removing the Child from the State

If a parent flees the state with a child in breach of the custody order, the Uniform Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) allows the state where the parent has taken the child to issue an emergency order to return the child home. In most other instances, only the court in the child’s home state, and generally the court that issued the initial custody order, can making rulings on an open custody case.