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Consequences of Withholding a Child from Another Parent


You may experience bitter feelings toward your ex following a divorce. However, when you seek revenge by withholding your child from your ex, it could lead to unfortunate consequences.

If you’re considering withholding your child from your ex, you need to speak to an experienced custody lawyer before taking that action. On the other hand, if your spouse is withholding your children from you, a custody lawyer can help you fight for your rights.

On either side of this battle, parents must consider what’s in the best interest of the child. The court considers this interest when issuing custody orders, and both parents are expected to follow the court order.

At Dusharm Law LLC, we help clients going through difficult custody battles. We put our years of legal experience to use advocating for you and your children. When you contact attorney Tammy Dusharm for a consultation, she’ll explain Pennsylvania child custody law and inform you of legal options for your situation. Here, we’ll discuss the consequences of withholding a child from another parent.

How Does a Court Decide Child Custody in Pennsylvania?

During a divorce, the court divides assets and determines child custody, child support, and spousal support. Child custody can often be the most emotional part of the divorce for parents who both want to remain an important part of their children’s lives.

Child Custody Factors to Consider

With such a contentious and emotional issue, the court considers many factors, including the following as required by the Pennsylvania Legislature:

  • Which parent is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and their other parent?

  • Was there present or past abuse committed by a parent or member of the parent's household?

  • Is there a continued risk of harm to the child?

  • Which parent can better provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs?

  • What parental duties are performed by each parent on behalf of the child?

  • Which parent can fulfill the need for stability and continuity in the child's education, family life, and community life?

  • Where do extended family and the child’s siblings live?

  • Does the child have a well-reasoned preference, and how mature is the child?

  • Have there been attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent?

  • Which parent is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and special needs of the child?

  • How close do the parties live to each other?

  • What is the level of conflict between the parents and their willingness to cooperate with one another?

  • Is there a history of drug or alcohol abuse of a parent or a member of a parent’s household?

  • What is the mental and physical condition of the parents?

Though the child’s preference is considered, the court’s primary consideration is the best interest of the child, the child’s preference is not the only factor considered, and the Court may go against the child’s wishes.

Example

John and Maggie, who have a ten-year-old son named Austin, divorce. In custody proceedings, the judge learns that Austin prefers to live with his father, who is relocating to a city two hours away. Austin’s extended family all lives in John and Maggie’s hometown, Austin plays on his school basketball team and has several close friends in his neighborhood. Though Austin prefers to live with John, the court finds it would be best for Austin to stay in his community. Finding Maggie to be a capable parent, the court awards primary custody to her.

What Are the Penalties for Violating Custody Orders?

Violating custody orders can land a parent in serious trouble. When you ignore court orders, you can be found in contempt of court.

A person found in contempt of court could face the following penalties:

  • Up to six months in jail;

  • A fine of up to $500;

  • Payment of the other party’s attorney fees; and

  • Suspension of your driver's license.

In addition to these penalties, violating custody orders could also result in consequences related to future custody of your children. To avoid these consequences, speak to a family attorney before violating any part of your custody orders.

When Is a Parent in Contempt of Court?

A court expects parents to follow child custody orders. There are many child custody violations that could land you in contempt of court, including:

  • A parent refuses to return the child after having them for a visit;

  • A parent travels out of state with the child without providing required notification;

  • The parent moves out of state or out of the country without getting permission; and

  • A parent violates legal custody rights by making a healthcare or educational decision when they do not have that authority.

Custody orders can be flexible enough to accommodate a parent taking a vacation with a child or missing an occasional visit. However, the parent must request permission before altering the custody arrangement.

Example

Tom and Brianne have two children, Taylor and Timmy. When the couple divorces, the court awards primary physical custody to Brianne and gives Tom visitation rights every other weekend. Tom is not satisfied with this situation, and he thinks the boys would be better off living with him. One weekend, he fails to return them to Brianne, instead driving across state lines and checking into a hotel with the boys. Tom is found in contempt of court.

What Is Parental Kidnapping?

Parental kidnapping—known in Pennsylvania as interference with custody—occurs, according to Pennsylvania law, when someone:

  • Knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any child under the age of 18 years from the custody of their parent, guardian, or other lawful custodian; and

  • Has no privilege to do so.

However, a parent cannot violate the parental kidnapping law with no custody order. Thus, before you can legally prevent your child’s other parent from taking them, you need to obtain a temporary or permanent custody order from a court.

Additionally, you may have a defense to interference with custody if you think your child is in danger or when your teen comes to your house without permission. If you have been charged with parental kidnapping, you must speak to a skilled custody and criminal defense attorney to help you with your best defense.

Example

Joanne and Ben have had a rocky relationship for a while now, and she has decided it’s time to file for divorce. Joanne takes her children out of state to stay with her parents while she figures out what to do next. She does not tell Ben where she is going.

Since neither Joanne nor Ben have yet filed for divorce, there are no court orders in place concerning their children. Therefore, Joanne has not committed parental kidnapping by taking the children out of state with her. However, Ben can file an action with the court and ask it to enter temporary orders and require Joanne to return with the children.

When Can You Deny a Parent Visitation?

You must abide by the custody arrangement in the court order unless doing so would put your child in immediate danger. If your child is in immediate danger, you should contact the police or your family law attorney. You cannot withhold your child without taking emergency legal action.

However, the court should not hold your reasonable effort to protect your child from abuse against you. A skilled family attorney can help you understand the best course of action in a situation where your ex is abusive.

Example

Charlie and Becca have twin four-year-old girls, Emily and Rose. In their divorce, Becca gets primary physical custody and Charlie has regular visitation. One weekend, when Charlie brings the girls back to Becca, he finds her intoxicated and barely able to stand up. Charlie doesn’t feel that it’s safe to leave the girls with Becca, but he doesn’t want to violate court orders. Charlie keeps the girls in his car at Becca’s house while he calls his family attorney to take emergency legal action.

Child Support vs. Child Custody

Some parents think they can withhold visitation if the other parent fails to pay child support. This is not true. Child support and custody are two separate orders that are not dependent on each other. Your ex can get in legal trouble for failing to pay child support. However, you can’t take the law into your own hands and withhold your child to punish your ex for failing to send you money.

Contact an Experienced Child Custody Attorney

If you are facing a child custody dispute, you need to contact an experienced attorney. Before withholding a child from another parent, it’s essential to seek legal counsel. Violating court orders could put your relationship with your child at risk.

Likewise, if your ex is withholding your child from you, a family attorney can fight for your rights. You don’t have to let your ex interfere with your relationship with your child. At Dusharm Law, attorney Tammy Dusharm has advocated for people in difficult situations for the past 15 years. She brings both experience and compassion to your child custody battle, fighting for what’s best for you and your child. Contact Tammy to schedule a free consultation to discuss your child custody situation.



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