hIt is fact of modern life that millions of children throughout America are living with divorced parents. While, in many cases, divorced parents are able to remain friendly, or at least amicable, and to settle disputes about child support and parenting time without involving the police or the court system, some situations are unfortunately far more tense. In these cases, a judge will usually enter a custody order clearly delineating which parent is the custodial parent and when and how the non-custodial parent shall be allowed to have time with the child. If either of the parents fails to abide by the rules of this order as it comes to when and how they must hand over the child to the other parent for their time, they could face serious consequences, including being charged will a criminal offense and being sentenced to jail in some cases.

Our veteran Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain how custody orders are crated and enforced in New Jersey, when you can end up behind bars for violating one, and how we can help you prevent this from occurring.

What is a New Jersey Custody Order?

When divorced parents cannot come to an out-of-court agreement among themselves about when and how each of them gets custody of the child, the matter will go before a Family Court judge. The judge will make an order deciding how often the child will spend time with each parent. In New Jersey, courts often use the term “parenting time,” to refer to time that a parent and child spend together, regardless of whether the parent is custodial or non-custodial. The amount of parenting time will vary greatly depending on the underlying circumstances of the situation, from some that are essentially a 50-50 time split, to some where the child spends every other weekend with the non-custodial parent, to others where the non-custodial parent is given only limited, monthly visitation time with the child. Once the order has been made, it can only be modified by a petition of one the parties

Ways You Can Violate a Custody Order in New Jersey

There are, of course, numerous different ways you can violate a custody order, depending on the specifics of the underlying order. One of the most common examples of violating such an order involves a parent intentionally interfering with the child’s relationship with the other parent, such as doing things like intercepting letters or emails, blocking phone calls, or continually scheduling children’s activities away from home during the other parent’s normal visitation time. You can also violate the order by attempting to deny visitation entirely, or encouraging your child not to spend time with the other parent to the point that the child refuses to make scheduled visits. If you are consistently late or entirely miss scheduled drop-off or meet-up times, this can also be a violation.

What Happens When a Parent Violates a Custody Order in New Jersey?

You can absolutely go to jail for violating a New Jersey custody order. However, many times, situations can be worked out without involving the courts. For example, one parent may have made a legitimate mistake in forgetting to drop off the child on the proper day, and the parents could simply agree to a make-up day later in the week. Even if the other parent chooses to file a motion to enforce the order, it is not necessarily the case that the judge will choose to send you to jail for violating the custody agreement. Instead, the judge may order other remedies such as make-up parenting time, paying the other parent for costs resulting from the inconvenience, changing the children’s transportation arrangements or pick-up location, changing parenting time either temporarily or permanently, or ordering the parent to participate in community service. A skilled New Jersey criminal defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can work to use our experience and the details of your case to make the most persuasive argument to the judge that you do not deserve any of the most serious penalties for your violation.

Can You Go To Jail If You Violate a New Jersey Custody Order?

If a judge finds the parent in contempt of court or the prosecutor chooses to charge them with the separate crime of “interference of custody,” jail time becomes a real possibility. An interference of custody charge occurs when a parent or guardian “takes or detains a minor child with the purpose of concealing the minor child and thereby depriving the child’s other parent of custody or parenting time with the minor child,” removes the child from the state in an act akin to New Jersey kidnapping charges, or “takes, detains, entices, or conceals a minor child from the other parent in violation of the custody or parenting time order.” It is third-degree crime punishable by up to 5 years in jail in most cases, but if you take the child out of state or keep them for more than 24 hours, it becomes a second-degree crime punishably by up to 10 years in prison.

Interference of custody is usually only charged in the most extreme cases, but judges are known to find those who repeatedly violate custody orders, and especially those who fail to show up to court as required, in contempt of court, which is a fourth-degree crime punishable by up to 18 months in jail. Our skilled criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can work to show the judge that there was a reasonable explanation for your actions and that you will not mess up again. We will leave no stone unturned defending you from interference of custody or contempt charges and working to help you avoid the most serious potential consequences, such as jail time.

If You are Facing a Hearing for Child Custody Order Violations, Call Our Seasoned NJ Attorneys Today

If a judge finds you in contempt of court or a prosecutor decides to charge you with interference of custody, you face the possibility of serious jail time for your actions. The sooner you act to retain an experienced NJ custody violation hearing defense attorney like those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, the better chance we have of mitigating the damage and bringing the matter to the best possible resolution for you. For a free consultation, call us today at (609) 616-4956.