Family Law

Abuse of Visitation Rights

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Learn what to do when your ex is interfering with your visitation.

What Can I Do If My Ex Won’t Let Me See My Child?

Under a court-ordered visitation schedule, you have a right and an obligation to visit your child on the dates and times stated. If your ex is constantly making up excuses or cancels your planned visits at the last minute, you may have to head back to court. Some custody orders require parents to try to resolve their issues in mediation or counseling before filing a court action. If you've tried these methods, but the situation hasn't improved, it's time to ask a judge for help.

What is Contempt of Court?

Being "in contempt of court" means a judge has determined that someone willfully disobeyed a court order—in your case, a visitation order. This is a harsh remedy, which is typically used as a last resort: A judge won’t hold a parent in contempt for canceling one or two visits. You'll need to show of a history of intentional interference before a judge will issue a contempt order. It’s important to document the times your spouse has canceled your visits. Use a calendar, journal, or some other type of dated log to keep track of any interference—supporting emails and text messages are also useful.

If a judge holds your ex in contempt of court for violating the visitation order, there are a number of penalties the judge can impose. You may be awarded makeup visitation to compensate for lost time with your child. Additionally, a judge can require the violating parent to pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees related to bringing the contempt action to court. In the most extreme cases—where a parent consistently violated the visitation order—a judge can require the problem parent to serve jail time. Usually, any jail time would be limited, as it's intended to send a message and encourage future compliance, rather than to imprison parents for long stretches of time.

Concerns About Child Safety

Traditional rules regarding contempt don’t apply if a parent is denying visitation to protect a child. In certain situations where one parent shows up drunk or has consistent substance abuse problems, the other parent can refuse to turn the child over for visitation. Additionally, if there’s evidence of abuse at the child’s home, a noncustodial parent can refuse to return a child to the custodial parent. These situations are serious, and a judge won’t take them lightly. If you have real concerns about your child’s safety, you should ask an experienced family law attorney for help bringing the problem to a judge’s attention.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My child’s other parent keeps preventing visitation by saying I’m using drugs, but it’s not true. What can I do?
  • My ex doesn’t directly cancel visitation, but my visits are cut short because of constant excuses and my ex showing up late. Do I have any recourse?
  • Can I prevent my ex’s visits if I suspect child abuse?

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