Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation
MOTHER NOT IN CONTEMPT FOR DE MINIMUS VIOLATIONS OF CHILD CUSTODY ORDER
In the family law, child custody case of Rehak vs. Thompson, PICS Case No. 1700772 (C.P. Allegheny Dec. 2, 2016) the Court held that mother was not in contempt of court for de minimus custody order violations, including her failure to log the child’s summer camp activity on a shared calendar and her occasional failures to have the child ready at the exact time scheduled for custody exchanges or telephone calls.
The parties were the parents of a nine-year-old son. Father appealed the court’s order which denied his petition for contempt regarding mother’s failure to comply with the terms of the custody order. On two prior occasions, father had filed contempt petitions containing similar allegations against mother, which the court had also denied. Hearings were held in those two prior matters, and the court found some de minimus noncompliance by mother, but not enough to rise to the level of contempt.
In this contempt matter, father argued mother was in contempt because she did not log the child’s summer camp enrollment on the calendar of the Our Family Wizard computer program. Father did not challenge mother’s authority to enroll the child in the camp without his consent, and father had actual knowledge of the camp before it occurred. His only objection was mother’s failure to memorialize the camp on the shared calendar. Father also sought to hold mother in contempt because she did not make the child ready for pickup at the exact time custody was to be transferred and she purportedly failed to ensure the child received father’s daily telephone calls at the specified time. Father appealed the court’s denial of his contempt petition and refusal to set the matter for hearing.
Father’s pattern of litigious behavior and repeated contempt filings over small issues approached an abuse of process. The court found it particularly telling that one of the remedies father sought was mother’s imprisonment. The court concluded father’s appeal was meritless. Father’s vague allegations of occasional tardiness in terms of phone calls and custody exchanges were not indicative of a colorable claim of contempt.
On appeal, father also contended that the court erred in allowing mother’s attorney to represent mother regarding the contempt motion without mother being present. The court found no error, because litigants were not required to be present during motions court. The attorney who appeared was with the same firm that had represented mother in the past. Father knew that firm represented mother, and he had served a copy of his motion on the firm. The court concluded that the dismissal of father’s contempt motion should be affirmed.
Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 40 PLW 521 (June 6, 2017)