Family Law

Abuse of Visitation Rights

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

When parents separate or divorce, a court will design a custody and visitation schedule for parents to follow. Once a court has entered a custody order, parents don’t have discretion on whether or not they will comply. Both parents are legally obligated to follow the terms of the court’s custody and visitation order.

If your child’s other parent is interfering with your visitation rights, you can ask a court to intervene. If after reading this article you have questions about enforcing your visitation rights, contact a local attorney for advice.

Visitation and Custody Overview

A child’s best interests are central to any custody decision. A parent with physical custody of a child (custodial parent) primarily lives with the child. The parent without physical custody (noncustodial parent) will likely receive regular visitation under the terms of the custody order. Most states have minimum visitation requirements that allow a noncustodial parent to visit with a child at least one weeknight per week and every other weekend.

What Are a Parent’s Duties When It Comes to Visitation?

At a minimum, a custodial parent should make the child available for visits and encourage a relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent. Some custody orders impose additional requirements such allowing the child to communicate with the noncustodial parent via phone, Skype, and or FaceTime and setting the responsibility for transporting a child to and from visits.

A parent doesn’t necessarily have to force visitation between the child and other parent. For example, it may be difficult, if not impossible, for a parent to force a stubborn 13 year-old to have visitation with the noncustodial parent if the child is refusing. Courts usually have less sympathy for parents who claim their toddler is balking about visits.

What Happens If I’m Not Receiving My Court-Ordered Visits?

When one parent refuses to comply with a visitation order, it may be time to get the court involved. Courts have power to enforce their own orders. If one parent is deliberately preventing visits from happening, alienating the child, or purposely scheduling the child’s activities during visits, the noncustodial parent may request make-up visits or even a change in custody in the most extreme circumstances.

A parent can file a contempt proceeding and seek an “order of contempt” against the parent who is preventing visits. Make sure to review your custody order prior to seeking court intervention. Some custody orders require couples to attend mediation or arbitration before going to court and filing a contempt action.

Once you proceed with a contempt action, you’ll need clear evidence of the interference with visitation, which can come in many forms, including calendars, emails, or text messages showing every missed visit.

If a court holds your ex in contempt, he or she may have to provide make-up visits, pay fines, or even experience jail time. A judge can also adjust custody if certain criteria are met and a custody change would support the child’s best interests.

Child Support and Visitation

Keep in mind that payment of child support is not tied to visitation. You cannot withhold child support even if your ex is preventing visitation with your child. Child support is treated separately from visitation and custody.

What Can I Do If I’m Concerned About My Child’s Safety?

A child’s well-being should always trump visitation if you have reason to believe your child is being abused or severely neglected in the other parent’s care. If you have solid evidence of abuse, you can refuse to return the child and seek an emergency visitation order. Allegations of abuse or extreme neglect carry serious consequences and you should seek an experienced family law attorney’s advice.

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