March 11, 2014

Contempt Charges in Child Custody Cases

Child custody is often the most emotionally challenging aspect of the separation and divorce process. Custody can become a dangerous and manipulative game – and the best interests of the children fade out of focus. Contempt charges in child custody cases may be filed against a parent in violation of a custody order; sanctions for violations can range in severity.

The best interests of the children are always the focal point when the courts are involved. By the time parents have a custody order, the courts have decided the best arrangement under the circumstances to meet that goal. Sometimes, the jealousy, fear, or anger of an interfering parent can prevent the other parent from building and maintaining the parent-child relationship. By filing contempt charges, the court will enforce terms of the agreement and the violating parent will be held in contempt of court pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 5323(g).

Common Contempt Charges in Child Custody Cases/Violations of Custody Agreements

1. Interfering with Communication

In Pennsylvania, blocking or intercepting calls, emails, or messages can be considered interfering with a custody order. Generally disrupting the parent-child relationship can be grounds for contempt charges in child custody cases. Because it is so easy to do, many do not realize they can be in contempt; however, when a child does not see a parent every day, this communication can be critical. It can be difficult for parents to allow conversation without interference, but both parents should be using discretion to meet their child’s best interests.

2. Preventing Visitation

An intervening parent who schedules appointments and activities during visitation times could face contempt charges in child custody cases. By setting a conflicting schedule on purpose, the intervening parent is preventing the continuation of the order which is established to benefit the child.

Another example is when a parent prevents visitation based on child support matters. If a parent limits or prevents visitation because the other parent has not paid support, he or she may face contempt charges. In Pennsylvania, custody and support are separate actions and a parent should never bar the other parent based upon support matters. A non-paying parent still has the right to see his or her child.

3. Taking a child with notifying the other parent

Taking a child without notifying or alerting the other parent could be considered kidnapping. A parent that takes the child without permission of the other parent, especially across state lines our out of the country, could face contempt charges.


Sanctions for contempt charges in child custody cases can include jail time depending upon the severity of the violation. While child custody can not be changed at a hearing for contempt, sanctions and punishments can be ordered by the court. If a great amount of visitation time was lost or withheld because of another parent, he or she could be ordered to take parenting classes. A court may also order make-up time or cause the interfering parent to pay costs such as attorney’s fees and transportation costs. If the interfering parent is held in contempt of court, he or she may be subject to fines or jail time.

Child custody is just not the venue to employ any tactics against an ex-spouse. The only person or people who truly feel the effects of violating a custody order are the children involved. Many parents are not aware they have rights or options to enforce a child custody agreement once it has been entered. After the first few months, problems can easily evolve into major legal issues. Contact an experienced Bucks County custody lawyer to discuss your case and find out what options are available.

To schedule a consultation with a Doylestown divorce and custody attorney, call (215) 942-2100. Or submit an inquiry form and a member of our team will contact you shortly to schedule your appointment.