In North Carolina, child custody disputes are resolved either by contract (i.e., a parenting agreement) or court order. If the parenting agreement is never incorporated into a court order, the court lacks the authority to hold either party in contempt for failure to comply. If, on the other hand, a court order controls the terms of the custody arrangement (through the incorporation of a parenting agreement or through a direct order of the court) the court’s powers of contempt attach, allowing the court to hold parties in contempt for failing to comply with the terms of the order.
Parents are often confronted with situations where they believe the terms of the custody order or parenting agreement no longer promote their child’s best interests and they resort to “self-help” remedies. Unfortunately, these “self-help” remedies often result in more harm than good. The parent who embarks down this road will often face a contempt action.
Violating a court order is a serious issue that could negatively impact your time with your child. Judges take their orders seriously, especially where the wellbeing of a child is involved. Accordingly, courts are generally not hesitant to find a parent in contempt of court when the parent willfully disobeys an order. A recent case out of North Carolina, however, has softened what was once the harsh consequence of violating a court order—at least in some very narrow instances.
The case brought to light the notion that for a parent to “willfully” disobey an order (as required by the contempt statute), more than a simple conscious purpose to act in violation of the order is necessary. To find a parent in contempt, the court must determine that the parent has acted “with stubborn disregard” to the authority of the court. If the parent has violated the order for a valid reason (i.e., to protect the safety of the child), the court may decline from finding a “willful” action on the part of the parent, and refrain from holding the parent in contempt.
Engaging in “self-help” is almost always a bad idea. If you believe that to keep your child safe your only option may be to violate a custody order, you should seek a family law attorney in Charlotte as soon as possible so that we can explain your options and the implications of your decisions. If, in the alternative, you have wrongfully been kept from your child and you believe the other party is in violation of an order, you should contact an attorney right away to protect your rights as a parent and to seek the fastest resolution possible.