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Bill would address custody violations

Violations of child visitation orders usually require litigation and often have insignificant consequences. A bill pending in the Pennsylvania legislature, however, would help provide relief for parents who lose time with their children when the other parent violated a child custody order.

Currently, a parent who loses time with their children when the other parent unlawfully withheld custody has few meaningful options. That parent must file a petition for contempt and go to court. The range of penalties for the parent who withheld custody include a fine, probation, an order to pay that parent's and, in very rare cases, imprisonment.

The law does not give the authority to order makeup time for the parent who lost visitation hours. Typically, the judge issues a warning against committing this violation again and orders the offending parent to pay attorney's fees. In other words, the parent who violated the custody order received extra time with their children at the expense of the other parent with practically no consequences.

The bill, if enacted into law, would authorize a judge to order the temporary modification of a custody order. This would allow the child to receive compensatory parenting time to make up the lost time that the child should have spent with the child who brought the contempt action. The judge could also impose other sanctions for the parent's contempt.

The bill was introduced in Feb. There has been bipartisan support for its passage.

Parents should seek legal representation to help assure that a custody order is fair and reasonable and in the best interests of the child. A lawyer may also take steps to strengthen the order's enforceability.

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