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When, and why, violating a child custody agreement leads to jail

On Behalf of | Feb 26, 2018 | Child Custody |

The case has quickly garnered a great deal of national media attention: Earlier this month, a North Carolina woman was sentenced to a week in jail after having her two-year-old daughter baptized. The case makes for an easy headline; the shock value is apparent. But the legal nuances are, to a large extent, being ignored.

The woman was not jailed for baptizing her daughter. She was jailed on account of being in contempt of the courts, for violating a child custody agreement (one which expressly granted “decisions including religion” to the child’s father). Ultimately, what the case underscores is how sensitive child custody matters can become, and the consequences one may face if one does not adhere to a legally binding resolution.

Collaboration is key

It’s rare but it happens: Each year, dozens of parents are jailed for violating their custody arrangements. Still more are forced to pay compensation to their former spouse for doing so. This is why it’s so important, whenever possible, for divorcing couples to work together to reach agreements that concern their children. Simply put, collaboration is the surest way to avoid legal disputes.

Unfortunately, as in the present case, collaboration isn’t always feasible. And the results can be surprising – indeed, the stuff of headlines.

The baptism took place in August 2016. The mother did not inform the father of the ceremony. According to the Charlotte Observer, this was particularly curious, as it took place the day after court proceedings in which the couple had “discuss[ed] spiritual decisions relating to their child”-and in which the father was given sole legal custody over the couple’s daughter.

When the father learned of the baptism, via pictures posted to Facebook, he filed a complaint with the courts. During subsequent proceedings, a Mecklenburg County judge found that the mother had knowingly and intentionally disobeyed the couple’s custody agreement, thus demonstrating contempt for the court. A short jail sentence ensued.

Why the punishment fits the crime

Such punishment may seem harsh. But many parents acknowledge that it’s important for custody violations to carry penalties; the threat of punishment is the only means, in some situations, to ensure both parents abide by agreed-upon terms.

Child custody matters comprise an especially complicated area of family law. If you are seeking to better understand these issues, or establish or modify a custody order, it is advantageous to work with a qualified attorney. Doing so is a simple means of staying in one’s home, and out of the news.