One of the biggest questions in a child custody case is who will get custody and visitation rights of the child. The answer to this can be complicated. Even once settled, custody and visitation of the child doesn't always go smoothly.
The child's other parent may interfere with your visitation time with the minor child. They might disregard the parenting plan or prevent phone contact with your child. These are examples of custodial interference and visitation interference.
This article answers some of the most common questions about visitation interference and custody interference issues. FindLaw has also provided links with more information about the legal consequences of interference.
Frequently Asked Questions
My ex has physical custody of our kids. I am always prompt in sending my support check, but lately, I've felt I don't have enough time with my kids. Is it a good idea to stop paying my child support to force my ex into giving me more visitation?
No, it is not a good idea. It could backfire and result in you having less or no time with your children. You could lose parental rights if the lack of payment is accompanied by desertion or abandonment of your children. Visitation and child support don't have anything to do with each other from a legal standpoint. A judge can hold you in contempt of court for failing to pay child support unless you have a legitimate reason for not paying (such as being seriously injured and unable to work). Courts may impose jail time for failing to pay court-ordered child support under civil or criminal contempt proceedings.
Try having a civil conversation with your ex about having more parenting time with your kids. If that doesn't work, you can request a modification of the visitation schedule in court.
Joint physical custody is another option if you and your ex don't live far apart. This is a shared arrangement where parents share custody of a child. They may spend equal time with the child and make major decisions about the child together. Courts will only grant this option if it doesn't harm the children and the parents show that they can work together. The courts will make this determination using the best interests of the child standard.
Our visitation order clearly states that my ex must pick up our daughter at a certain time on a certain day each week. But they are consistently late and sometimes don't bother to show up. This is very hard on our daughter, and it often interferes with my life as well. Can I do anything about this?
The first step (as it usually is) is to talk to your ex and get an understanding of the reasons why they're late or a no-show. If work or family responsibilities are the cause, you and the other parent may be able to fix the problem with a few simple schedule changes.
If there is no valid reason and you can't find a solution, you can ask a judge to enforce or change the visitation order. You should create a list of all the times the offending parent shows up late or doesn't show up so you have some documentation of the problem. The court will definitely be more interested in learning about how the situation affects your daughter than how it is inconveniencing you. So, you must ensure the evidence you present focuses on her rather than you.
I have joint legal custody of my son with my ex. Whenever we have to decide about our son's religion, healthcare, or education, my ex fights me tooth and nail. I feel that my ex is just trying to be difficult. Do I have to consult my ex about these things? Is my ex's behavior considered custody interference?
Sharing legal custody of a child can present a wide range of problems, especially when the relationship between the former spouses has deteriorated. As tough as it may be, you still need to keep your ex in the loop when it comes to major decisions, as you may violate a court order if you keep them in the dark. If your ex challenges your unilateral decision-making in court, a judge could award them sole legal custody, so it's better to comply with the terms of the original order until it can be modified.
As always, you should try as hard as possible to work it out among yourselves before litigating in court. If possible, speak to the other party first to understand the reasoning behind their actions that obstruct your co-decision-making rights. Perhaps, the party with less custodial parenting time feels they don't have enough visitation or parenting time with your son. Increasing the other parent's visitation time with your son might resolve the issue. A family law attorney can assist you with filing the proper motions and orders to memorialize the agreement and legally amend the current court order.
I have joint legal and physical custody of my children with my ex-spouse. They never seem to do anything to help with chores or schedules, so I do all the laundry, shopping, and planning. How can I get them to pull their weight?
First, examine the situation and see if there's a reason why your ex hasn't helped out with these responsibilities. Personal or work issues might prevent them from doing everything they should. They may not even realize that you feel this way.
If possible, talk with your ex and ask them to help. If that doesn't work, send them a cordial letter via email or mail listing the parental duties you seek help with and request that they take over some of them. Consider sending a certified letter if they do not respond. If they do not respond or start pitching in within two or three weeks, you may have to return to court to request that the current order be modified.
Also, think about asking a mediator to step in. Impartial mediators frequently help in a situation like this. Sometimes, a neutral third party specializing in assisting with custody and visitation issues can help you achieve the desired results.
I've had sole physical custody of my son for his entire life. My ex recently promised him a car if my son came to live with my ex. Can I fight this in any way?
Before trying to fight the move, ask yourself if it could be a good choice for your son.
If you still object to the switch, it's within your rights to prevent your son from leaving. If you choose to do so, your ex could go to court and ask for a change in the custody order. Judges will generally give greater weight to their preferences when children get older. That doesn't mean that a judge will rubber-stamp your son's wish to go live with your ex, but it does make it more likely that the court will allow your son to make his own choice. A change in custody must still be in the child's best interests. The party petitioning the court for the change bears the burden of proving this.
Remember not to badmouth your ex based on your personal feelings about them. But, if you think your ex is a danger to your son in any way, you should explain this to both your son and the court (assuming your son is old and mature enough to understand your concerns). Seek advice from a mental health professional or school counselor — if possible — before sharing your concerns directly with your child so that the language used and information provided is age appropriate. Understand that if you speak with a professional, and they have reason to believe that your child has been subject to abuse or neglect by your ex, they are likely mandated to make a report to Child Protective Services.
You could also avoid court altogether by trying to reach a compromise. Increased visitation might satisfy your ex while allowing you to retain sole custody of your son.
Over spring break, my ex took our kids on a trip but didn't tell me where they were going. Is there anything I can do to ensure I know of future vacation plans beforehand?
That's a difficult question. Unless your custody and visitation arrangement states otherwise, your ex can take the kids wherever they want as long as the trip doesn't place the children in any danger. And yet it is probably in the children's best interest that you know where they are going in case of an emergency.
First, ask your ex for information about any future vacation plans. Explain that you want to know for safety purposes—not to hinder the plans. If they do not provide the information promptly, send a certified letter that politely repeats your request. Suppose there is still no response, or your ex indicates a refusal to provide this information in the future. In that case, you should seek legal counsel about modifying your current court order to include this provision. If you do not have counsel, you may want to send your ex's attorney a copy. Lawyers can often convince clients to cooperate and amicably settle minor disagreements between the parties.
Suppose your current order addresses this already, and your ex refuses to provide address information. In that case, you can file a motion for an "order to show cause" demanding that your ex appear in court and explain why they shouldn't disclose the vacation plans to you. A judge will likely order your ex to tell you the plans, or they could face the consequences of a contempt-of-court finding.
My ex often returns the kids late after the scheduled visitation. I'm worried my ex may be thinking of not returning them at all one day. Is there anything I can do?
It might be possible to clear everything up by talking to your ex about the tardiness. Your ex might not realize their actions have caused you so much worry. They may not understand how the courts view this kind of visitation interference or irregularity.
If your ex fails to return the kids, their actions may violate both criminal and civil law by violating the custody and visitation orders you have in place. At this point, law enforcement can step in to recover the children. In some states, the offending parent may be charged with parental kidnapping. This is a criminal charge. Depending on your state's laws, they may also be liable for civil damages in a contempt proceeding.
My ex has sole physical custody of our kids, but I have visitation on alternating weekends. My ex just told me of plans to take a job across the country, which would mean that I could only afford to see my kids every few months. What can I do?
Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer to this question. State law controls and states differ greatly regarding relocation issues. Some states protect the non-custodial parent's right to maintain an ongoing relationship with their children, while others protect the custodial parent's right to relocate for employment or family reasons.
Try to reason with your ex by explaining your desire to keep seeing your children regularly and laying out your financial limitations. If this doesn't work, you should consult with your attorney to learn more about the laws in your state and possible recourse.
I have an infant child whose father has visitation rights every other weekend. He lives in a tiny apartment that isn't baby-safe and doesn't have the necessary items, like a crib, stroller, or infant tub. Can I prevent the visits?
It's best to comply with visitation orders lest you commit visitation interference, anger a judge, and risk giving up some of your custodial rights. You can provide what the baby needs and firmly suggest that the father buy the necessary supplies. Unless the visitation order explicitly states that the father must buy certain items, he isn't legally required to do so. But if the items he lacks concern the child's safety, such as a car seat, you should notify the police as driving without a child safety seat is against the law and dangerous for the child.
Consider going back to court to modify the visitation order. Judges will usually require parents to have all reasonable items for the care of the baby. If you still have questions, FindLaw's Child Custody forum is specifically devoted to child custody and support issues.
Facing Child Custody or Visitation Interference? Get Legal Help Today
Some custody or visitation questions are very case-specific and can't be easily summarized or answered. Moreover, the answer in situations involving a potential move of a child from a home state (or even county) varies by jurisdiction. A family law attorney can help you navigate state laws. They will help you understand your legal rights related to the lawful custody of your child. They will review your custody agreement and advise you on the best way to secure additional — or enforce existing — court-ordered visitation.
Consider talking to a criminal defense attorney if you are facing criminal charges. These attorneys are experienced in criminal law and can help you defend against contempt-of-court charges. Whether you are facing a felony or misdemeanor charge, consider consulting with or retaining a criminal defense attorney to defend you. They will give you valuable legal advice to guide you through your situation.
Consider speaking with a family law attorney today if you're dealing with custody or visitation interference.