What Happens if You Disobey a Court Child Custody Order?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

What Happens if You Disobey a Court Child Custody Order?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

When a court issues a child custody order, parents are legally obligated to comply with its terms. If either parent disobeys the court order, a judge can impose serious penalties, such as criminal charges, monetary fines, or permanent loss of custody or visitation. In the event one or both parents wish to amend the order, they must do so through the court system as they cannot simply do it on their own.

Gavel surrounded by cutouts of a family

Custodial vs. Noncustodial Breach of Order

The consequences of disobeying a court child custody order may differ depending on if you are a custodial or noncustodial parent. A custodial parent is one who has physical and legal custody of the child, meaning that the child primarily lives with them. That parent will also make the important decisions in the child's life, such as where they go to school, what religion (if any) they follow, and what medical treatment to get. A noncustodial parent is one who does not have custody of the child as a result of a court order. A judge typically designates custodial and noncustodial parents as part of divorce proceedings.

If a parent disobeys a child custody order, the court can hold them in contempt of court. For example, if the custodial parent refuses to allow the noncustodial parent to see the child according to the terms of the court order, or if they try to alienate the child from the other parent, the noncustodial parent can file a contempt order with the court. By contrast, if the noncustodial parent fails to return the child to the custodial parent on time or at all, or intentionally and repeatedly violates visitation times, the custodial parent can file a contempt motion.

Contempt of Court

Being held in contempt of court is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. The consequences vary, but contempt parents run the risk of losing custody or other visitation rights altogether. In cases where the noncustodial parent was denied time with their child by the contempt parent, the court may rule that they get more make-up time with the child. If this happens repeatedly, a judge may decide the custody order needs to be amended to force compliance.

Parents can also lose their rights completely, such as if the noncustodial parent flees the state with the child. In this case, they may lose all remaining visitation privileges and potentially receive jail time. In this situation, the Uniform Child 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.

The important thing to remember, regardless if you are the custodial or noncustodial parent, is to always abide by the court child custody order. If you wish to change or modify the order in any way, you must do so through the court system. Any change in behavior that is made without formally modifying the court order can result in a judge holding you in contempt of court. If you are seeking additional information, you can visit the UCCJEA website to learn more about child custody laws in your state.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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