The federal government considers child custody orders serious enough to warrant special legislation. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act of 1997 requires participating states to honor and enforce custody orders, including those that originate in another state, if a parent takes her child and flees elsewhere. Even in circumstances where the violation is not that serious, state governments will generally take action to punish a parent who intentionally violates a child custody order.
Show Cause Hearings
When one parent disobeys a custody order, the other parent has the right to petition the court for enforcement of the order. In some states, this results in a show cause hearing. Depending on where the parents live, the child’s other parent can file a petition or motion to ask the court to address the problem. The parent that disobeyed the custody order must appear in court at an appointed time and explain to the judge why he violated the order.
Depending on the severity of the offense, if the judge doesn’t accept the reason given by the parent for breaking the order, the offending parent can be liable for criminal charges. The judge can find the parent in contempt of court because he acted in opposition to a court order. Contempt charges can result in jail time.
Loss of Custody or Visitation
Even if the judge does not find the parent in contempt of court, she may change the custody order, either temporarily or permanently. If the parent had primary custody, he could lose it. If the parent had visitation rights, the judge could order that his time with the child be supervised, and always be in the presence of another responsible adult who can prevent the parent from violating the order again. If the violation was minor, the judge might order the child’s other parent be given additional time with the child and reduce the time allowed to the offending party.
Other Possible Penalties
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Contempt of court is usually punished by a fine. The amount of the fine varies from state to state and from judge to judge. In Michigan, for instance, it can be as high as $1,000 for a third offense. A judge might also suspend the offending parent's license or occupational license. It is also likely that this parent would have to pay any attorney’s fees and court costs incurred by the child’s other parent .
In some cases, a parent might have good cause to disobey a child custody order. One example is if the child’s other parent is abusive and the offending parent, or the child, are in immediate danger from the other parent. In this case, a judge might excuse the offending parent. The repercussions for violating a custody order can be severe, however, so it is advisable for a parent in this type of situation to confer with an attorney as soon as a danger is perceived and before any action is taken.