It can be frustrating and overwhelming when your co-parent does not follow the child custody order that was established. You may be wondering how to enforce this order and whether you should involve the court or not. It is important to keep in mind that while annoying, a minor infraction is generally alright. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time and if your co-parent is late a couple times to exchange your child, this does not necessarily need to warrant an enforcement petition to the court.
However, in the event your co-parent is acting unreasonably and has violated a custody or visitation support more than once, it is probably time to consider enforcing your order.
Enforcement of a Child Custody Order
If your co-parent refuses to follow a custody or visitation order, you can file an enforcement petition in family court. It would be beneficial to consult with an experienced family law attorney before doing so to ensure your rights and interests are protected. Before filing a court action, you should know that the court wants to do what is in the best interests of the child. If you decide to enforce a custody order because you want to punish your co-parent, you may not get the result you want. You should ask yourself if you can negotiate with your co-parent before going to court again.
Once an enforcement petition has been filed, a hearing will take place and the court will decide how to rectify the situation. Unless you would like to pursue your complaint as a criminal matter, the judge will likely do one or more of the following:
- Adjust your parenting plan, including changing which parent has physical or legal custody of the child
- Award you with additional days to make up for any time you lost with your child
- Have the other parent pay your court costs and lawyer’s fees
- Hold the other parent in contempt of court
Your options for enforcing a child custody agreement may vary. If you did not have a court-approved order in place beforehand then it will be more difficult to enforce. Without a court order, the court can only enforce a custody agreement if you believe that your child is in immediate danger. If this is the case, you should contact the police immediately.
What Is Considered a Severe Custody Violation?
If your co-parent has made a serious custody violation, including one of the violations below, it is time to enforce an order:
- Abusing alcohol and/or drugs in front of the child
- Interfering with your visitation time
- Chronic pattern of showing up late or early
- Frequently missing visitation exchanges
- Refusing to take your child to school, medical appointments, after-school activities, and/or court-ordered counseling sessions
Be Sure to Keep Good Records of Custody and Visitation Violations
Ensure that you keep clear records of all custody order violations as you will need this information when you go to enforce an order. Write these violations down in your calendar or journal and be sure to include dates, times, and a description of the problems that came up. Keep any records of police reports and correspondence between you and your co-parent, including emails, text messages, and other pieces of information that may prove helpful in court.
Should You Hold Your Co-Parent in Contempt?
When you ask the judge to hold your co-parent in contempt of court, you are asking the court to find that this individual purposefully disobeyed a court order, which constitutes a crime. A finding of contempt has severe consequences, including jail time. As such, you should determine if this action will be in the best interests of your child long term.