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What Happens When a Parent Violates a Child Custody Order?

Custody orders are not required for parents who are not together, but many choose to obtain a court order when they cannot agree on custody, visitation, and other issues related to raising their child. Without a court-issued custody order, the legal parents share equal rights.[1]

Custody Orders are Legally Binding

Even though custody orders are not required in order to co-parent in North Carolina, if one does exist, the terms are not optional. Violation of a child custody order can be punished by criminal or civil contempt.[2] A judge will ultimately decide the appropriate action if one parent is found to have willfully violated a court-ordered custody arrangement, and these punishments can range from a verbal reprimand to jail time.[3]

Violations and Suspended Visitation

Extreme or repeated cases of court order violations can also affect how custody and visitation is awarded to each parent. In the North Carolina case of Isom v. Duncan,[4] Mother lost custody and had her visitation suspended because she repeatedly violated the custody order.

Primary physical custody was originally awarded to Mother when the child was about one year old. However, Mother failed to follow the order by refusing to allow Father to have visitation. She was held in contempt a few months after the initial order was entered, but for four years following that incident, Mother hid the child from Father and continued to prevent him from seeing the child. He filed an emergency motion for physical custody and was granted temporary physical custody.

In response to this order, Mother took the child and fled to Ohio, where she stayed with a friend. Mother’s friend became concerned for the child because Mother was researching fake passports and telling the child to use a fake name in public. The friend contacted authorities, Mother was deemed a flight risk, and temporary custody was granted to a child welfare agency in Ohio.

Father filed for custody in North Carolina and was awarded temporary sole legal and physical custody of the child. Mother was allowed to have supervised visitation with the child, but she violated the visitation supervisors’ rules multiple times. As a result of continued concerns over the child’s well-being, Father filed a motion to suspend or terminate Mother’s visitation. The trial court decided to limit Mother’s visitation to phone and video meetings, and she appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, stating that each challenged finding of fact was reasonable and there was no abuse of discretion committed by the trial court.

If your co-parent has violated a custody order or you would like to discuss your options for requesting a modification to your current order, contact the Woodruff Family Law Group. Our Greensboro divorce lawyers are uniquely qualified to handle complex custody and visitation matters, so reach out today to schedule a consultation.

[1] North Carolina Judicial Branch. Child Custody.

[2] NC General Statutes § 50-13.3.

[3] North Carolina Judicial Branch. Child Custody.

[4] Isom v. Duncan, 279 N.C. App. 171, 864 S.E.2d 831.