Steven Fernandez |

Child Custody

In 2010, music stars Nas and Kelis divorced after five years of marriage. As part of the divorce, the couple had to negotiate terms of custody for their then one-year-old son. Both would have to follow the terms of this custody agreement for years to come.

Nine years later, Nas is saying that Kelis hasn’t kept up her end of the bargain. He claims that she has violated the terms of their agreement at least 17 times. Now he’s concerned that she’ll make a permanent move to Columbia with their son without his permission. He’s asked a California court to intervene and hold her in contempt.

What Happens When a Parent Ignores a Custody Agreement?

A child custody agreement is a court order. This is true even if parents negotiate the terms themselves during a divorce. Once both parents sign on the dotted line, they are required to comply with the terms laid out in the document.

There are consequences if a parent later decides they don’t want to follow the rules that have been established. Specifically, a parent can be held in contempt of court for violating a child custody order.

What is Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court means intentionally and willfully disobeying a court order. When one parent fails to comply with the terms of a child custody agreement, the other can ask a court to hold them in contempt. After the motion to hold the parent in contempt is received, a judge will generally schedule a hearing. The parent accused of violating a custody agreement will have the opportunity to explain themselves in court. If they have violated the terms, they need to have a good explanation.

If a judge finds that a parent has willfully violated a court order, they can hold them in contempt. In California, contempt is punishable by imprisonment and/or fines. A parent who disregards a custody agreement may also lose some or all of their custodial or visitation rights.

How Can a Parent Violate a Custody Agreement?

There are many ways a parent can break the terms of a child custody plan. These include:

  • Failing to drop off a child with the other parent at a designated time
  • Extending visitation time without the other parent’s consent
  • Refusing to allow the other parent to have  their negotiated visitation time, and
  • Regularly showing up late to custody exchanges.

Put another way, a parent violates a custody order whenever they deliberately interfere with the other parent’s visitation.

Traveling Out of State Can Violate a Custody Agreement

Unless a custody agreement says otherwise, a parent cannot leave the state with their child without the other parent’s consent. There may even be times when a parent will need a court’s permission before they can travel outside of state lines with their child in tow.

If a parent knows that travel it will be a big part of their life after divorce, it is important to include language about out-of-state travel in a custody agreement. Taking a kid out of state without the knowledge and or permission of the other parent will be considered a violation of a custody agreement.

Does this mean that a parent has to stay in California forever? No. A parent can relocate if they secure a move away order.

Parents May Face Other Criminal Charges

Contempt of court isn’t the only charge a parent can face for violating the terms of a custody order. The state can decide to pursue more serious charges if the parent:

  • Forcibly keeps a child away from the other parent, or
  • Alienates the other parent emotionally and psychologically manipulating the child.

These crimes carry serious penalties and will likely result in the loss of custodial rights.

Parents who believe that their co-parent is violating the terms of their custody agreement should not hesitate to contact a family law attorney for help.