Custody Contempt in Pennsylvania
"You can't use legal cover to mask a moral failure." -- Matthew 5:32, The Message
I've been handling a lot of custody contempt cases lately. Since the Court does not want anyone in contempt of an Order (and neither do I want my clients being held in contempt of a Court Order), let's take a look at what is at issue in a custody contempt case in Pennsylvania:
How do you prove the other party is in contempt of a custody order?
The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in Stahl v. Redcay, 897 A.2d at 489, (Pa. Super. 2006), stated that to "sustain a finding of civil contempt, the complainant must prove certain distinct elements:
(1) that the contemnor had notice of the specific order or decree which he is alleged to have disobeyed;
(2) that the act constituting the contemnor's violation was volitional; and
(3) that the contemnor acted with wrongful intent."
What does this mean in plain English? If you're the person alleged to be in contempt, it means that:
(1) you knew what you were ordered to do or not do;
(2) you did it anyway, and you did so of your own choice and free will; and
(3) you have no valid, objective justification for doing so, but instead you did it to piss off the other party or piss off the Court.
Or in even simpler terms:
1) you knew + 2) you did it anyway + 3) you have no excuse = you're in contempt!!!
What are the punishments if you're found in contempt of a custody order? Again, it's a good idea to look to the law:
23 Pa. C.S. § 5323(g) -- Contempt for noncompliance with any custody order.--
(1) A party who willfully fails to comply with any custody order may, as prescribed by general rule, be adjudged in contempt. Contempt shall be punishable by any one or more of the following:
(i) Imprisonment for a period of 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 under section 4355 (relating to denial or suspension of licenses).
(v) Counsel fees and costs.
(2) An order committing an individual to jail under this section shall specify the condition which, when fulfilled, will result in the release of that individual.
In other words, don't get found in contempt, because you can lose your freedom, your money, your license (which is your freedom), or your money again. If you like your freedom and your money -- both very American ideals -- then don't act in contempt of a Court Order for custody!
My message on contempt:
If the other party wants to fudge,
then I'ma give a nudge to the judge
and say: "Hey, that lie is fat as pudge!"
In the fight for justice, you think I'm'unna budge?!