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Consequences of Custody Contempt

23 Pa. C.S. 5323 (f) provides that any custody order should have sufficient detail to enable the parties to understand what they are obligated to do and for law enforcement authorities to be able to assist in enforcement where appropriate. Section (g) discusses the consequences for violation of an established custody order. "A party who willfully fails to comply with any custody order may be adjudged in contempt. Contempt shall be punishable by any one or more of the following: (i) imprisonment for a period 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; and/or (iv) counsel fees." 23 PA. C.S. 5323 (g).

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As the statute is worded, every technical violation of a custody order should not be punished as contempt. Instead, the statute refers to parties who willfully fail to comply. This would suggest a showing of bad faith on the part of the non-compliant party. There are last minute changes or emergencies that occur in life which could disrupt a custody schedule. Infrequent instances would not be grounds for the punishment contemplated by the statute. However, parties who frequently and repeatedly disobey the court order may face some of the sanctions provided. Counsel fees are a popular sanction where the parties are represented with imprisonment being the most extreme sanction for a custody matter.

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