When your ex-spouse denies you visitation on your court-ordered schedule, it can be an extremely stressful situation—especially if it happens consistently. Visitation is a frequent source of conflict between co-parents, and there are some instances when a parent refuses visitation entirely.
Many noncustodial parents accept this type of behavior; however, they do not realize that there are several options through the legal channels to remedy these types of situations. Additionally, you need to avoid making common mistakes that could result in legal trouble.
The following are several ways you can enforce your child visitation orders:
- Document any missed time – Noncustodial parents should keep track of the dates and times of missed visitation in a calendar, written journal, or electronic document. Remember, visitation time can and should be made up. Specific make-up dates can be scheduled between the parents. Furthermore, keep copies of any correspondence (e.g. texts, e-mails, messages, etc.) with your ex, which means you must be professional and civil at all times. All of this will help you build a case if you end up in court seeking enforcement of your order, and prove you have consistently attempted to exercise your visitation rights.
- Meet with your ex – Prior to settling the issue in the courtroom or through law enforcement, attempt to remedy the problem personally. If the case is conflicting schedules or occasional bad-timing, try to schedule additional days to make up for any lost time. Generally, if there hasn’t been a history of issues or the excuses are always legitimate, at least attempt to remedy the situation in an amicable and respectful manner before resorting to more drastic measures.
- Have your lawyer draft a letter – If your ex fails to cooperate in making up missed visitation time, have your attorney send an official letter, warning them that if withholding continues, then you will have to pursue legal enforcement. Make it clear that you are willing to resolve the problem outside of the courtroom and avoid further stress, but any further denial of court-ordered needs to end immediately and any missed days must be made up.
- Contact law enforcement – Technically, court orders—even those regarding visitation and parenting time—are enforceable by local police; however, many departments may not involve themselves in civil issues unless there is a potential of criminal action. If they provide aid, police will often call your ex and urge him or her to comply with the court order, or escort you to pick your kids up at a designated location. But in all likelihood, law enforcement will inform you to address the issue in a court of law.
- Go to court – As a last resort, you can raise the issue before a family law judge. While a lengthy process, it is considered the most effective method for permanently resolving the issue. Through filing a “Motion to Enforce,” you essentially ask the court to intervene and require your ex to comply with the order. Additionally, you are able to have the court issue make-up days for any missed time, as well as order the cost of attorney and court frees to your ex if he or she is found to be guilty of willfully disobeying the visitation order. This is the main reason why documentation is essential to develop a strong case in your favor. If you are able to show when the order was ignored, any excuses provided by your ex, and your repeated attempts to resolve the issue before presenting it to court, you will have a great chance to obtain a favorable outcome.
Unfortunately, many noncustodial parents resort to avoid paying their court-ordered child support. Child support and visitation orders are completely separate, so you do not have the right to return the favor if you are being denied your rights.
Furthermore, do not take matters into your own hands. Taking the children for any period of time beyond what is ordered by the court is considered parental kidnapping, which can result in criminal penalties.