No. 1862 PHL 1983, Appeal from the Order entered July 11, 1983 in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Civil Division, at No. 85 June Term, 1981.
Robert E. Hernan, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Frank W. Hayes, West Chester, for appellees.
Cavanaugh, McEwen and Hoffman, JJ. McEwen, J., concurs in the result.
[ 332 Pa. Super. Page 68]
This appeal is from an order which declared appellant-father to be in contempt of a custody order of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas and directed him to return the parties' two children to appellee-mother. Because we
[ 332 Pa. Super. Page 69]
find that the contempt order was erroneously entered, we reverse.
The parties were married in 1969 and parented two children: A.S. and Z.A., born on August 9, 1976. The family resided in Chester County, Pennsylvania, until December of 1980, when appellee left the marital home with the children and moved to Newark, Delaware. On May 29, 1981, the parties entered into a separation and property settlement agreement, whereby appellee was to retain custody of the children and appellant received visitation rights. On June 2, 1981, the Chester County Court of Common Pleas granted the parties a divorce and, on June 5, entered a custody order which conformed to the terms of the parties' settlement agreement. In November, 1981, appellant, a citizen of Bermuda, returned to Bermuda while appellee and the children moved from Delaware to Washington, D.C., to live with appellee's parents. In June, 1982, appellee and the children moved to Baltimore, Maryland.
In June, 1982, pursuant to the court-ordered agreement, appellant took the children to his home in Bermuda for the summer. At the end of the summer, however, he failed to return the children to Baltimore. After consultation with various counsel, appellant instituted ex parte proceedings in Bermuda to obtain interim custody of the children. On September 3, 1982, the Bermuda Supreme Court granted appellant interim custody. Appellee then filed a summons in Bermuda on November 12, 1982, to have the interim custody order set aside and the children returned to her. Appellant also petitioned the Chester County court on February 2, 1983, to (1) find appellant in contempt, (2) issue a bench warrant for his arrest, and (3) have custody returned to her. Appellant moved to dismiss appellee's petition, claiming that Pennsylvania no longer had jurisdiction over the matter. Following an evidentiary hearing, the lower court, on July 7, 1983, entered an order finding appellant in willful contempt of the Pennsylvania June 5, 1981 custody order and requiring appellant to return custody of the
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children to appellee "or be subject to imprisonment in the Chester County Prison for a period not to exceed thirty (30) days or until such time as he purges himself of the contempt by returning the children to their mother and [makes] his application for custody in a court of competent jurisdiction." This appeal followed.*fn1
Appellant argues first that, because the lower court did not have jurisdiction of the underlying custody matter, the court had no authority to find him in contempt. We disagree. Although it is undisputed that the lower court lost its jurisdiction to modify the 1981 custody order under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 5341 et seq., we find that it did not, thereby, lose its jurisdiction to enforce the prior decree. "There can be no question that courts have the inherent power to enforce compliance with their lawful orders through civil contempt." Simmons v. Simmons, 232 Pa. Superior Ct. 365, 369, 335 A.2d 764, 766 (1975); accord, Brocker v. Brocker, 429 Pa. 513, 519, 241 A.2d 336, 338 (1968) (courts have inherent power to enforce their orders and decrees). See generally 4 McCahey, Kaufman and Kraut, Child Custody & Visitation Law and Practice § 25.05 (proceedings to enforce prior ...