How Severe Does A Custody Agreement Violation Have To Be Before A Court Will Help Me?
A court can hold anyone in contempt for failing to follow a court order. In the case of a parent violating the terms of a parenting plan, this is typically a case of willful disobedience. The courts do not react kindly to anyone disrespecting their orders, and violations are taken seriously.
However, individual small violations are typically not enough to force one parent to seek action against the other. Contempt of court usually requires serious and repeat violations, but how serious does a custody agreement violation have to be? At what point will the courts step in and hold the violating parent in contempt?
What constitutes a severe custody agreement violation in court?
Any action against the custody agreement is considered a violation. There are rare circumstances where a break in the agreement might be allowed, but these rare circumstances are almost always emergencies and are exclusive to one-time scenarios.
Here are a few examples of breaking a court-ordered custody agreement:
Preventing a parent from visiting
If your co-parent has a court order for visitation and you stop this visitation without the court’s approval, the non-custodial parent may take you to court and plead their case before the judge, which can result in contempt of court or an injunction. You may have to pay the attorney fees for the non-custodial parent, depending on the circumstances. In some cases, the non-custodial parent might even be able to sue for custody. Parenting plan modifications are necessary when circumstances change, or when a parent willfully ignores the custody agreement.
If you are preventing a parent from visiting because you believe you have observed signs of abuse, which includes harm to the child’s health or significant impairments to the child’s emotional state, you need to make a request to the judge to limit visitation or change your custody agreement.
Generally, the court will not look favorably on any attempt to cut off the other parent from seeing their child, especially if this goes against a court order. There are of course certain circumstances that cannot wait for a court order, such as active abuse or kidnapping. If the other parent or their environment creates a hazard for your child—such as suspected unsanitary living conditions or emotional/physical abuse—you might have grounds to refuse visitation.
Such instances are limited to immediate threats, and stopping visitation as a penalty can end up making your situation worse, and complicate your ability to be seen favorably by the courts. You should always consult with your family law attorney before attempting to violate your court-ordered visitation schedule.
If you’ve noticed a pattern of your former spouse consistently denying phone calls or blocking other communication, this could be viewed as denying communication and they could be held in contempt. Since we don’t always know a person’s true motive for not answering a call, suspecting a denial of communication requires reasonable guesswork and a pattern of misbehavior.
Most courts will agree that contact must be reasonable. “Reasonable contact” is subjective and might depend on the visitation. If the other parent takes the kids camping and you can’t reach them frequently over the weekend, this is not necessarily denying communication. However, if you notice that every time it’s their visitation and you have trouble reaching them, there might be reason to suspect an issue. The judge might also weigh in on how often you are trying to communicate with your children during the other parent’s visitations.
Leaving the state or country without the other parent’s permission
Your child custody order should properly outline whether or not the child(ren) can travel out of state with either the custodial or non-custodial parent. The order should also state whether the other parent has to be notified, and whether or not the traveling parent has to seek permission from the court. If one parent travels without following the stipulations or intentionally breaking them, this could constitute a violation of the court order and the parent could be held in contempt.
Putting the child in danger during visitation
The welfare of your children should always be your main concern. You cannot afford to drag your children into the negativity that exists between you and your ex-spouse, and you also should never put your child in danger during visitation. Even if it seems impossible to get along with your ex-spouse, it’s imperative you take the high road whenever you can and always conduct yourself with compassion and empathy.
If the other parent refuses to compose themselves, and you suspect that their behavior or language is harming the child, you have an opportunity to discuss your case with the judge. If you sink to their level, however, you might pass up this valuable opportunity and fall out of favor with the courts. Kindness and level-headedness go a long way when it comes to parenting agreements and the law.
Legal Actions for Custody Agreement Violations
The rate of divorce in America is quite high, and many divorcees have children together. In any divorce with children, child custody is the most considerable concern for both the parents and the courts.
File For Contempt
Any intentional violation of a court-ordered child custody agreement can be considered contempt of court. This is an offense that the court may punish, and you can file a motion asking for the violating parent to be held in contempt. If the court or judge agrees with your motion, the violator will face penalties such as paying missed costs, paying the other parent’s legal fees, an order to attend parenting classes, changes in the child custody agreement, fines, or even jail.
If you are curious about how to file a parenting plan modification case, speak with your trusted family law attorney.
Talk to Them about Respecting the Custody Agreement
The least complicated thing you can do is to attempt to persuade them into respecting the custody agreement. In many cases this won’t work, especially if your relationship with your ex-spouse is contentions. Many parents that violate their child custody orders do so intentionally, but you can attempt to talk them into respecting the custody agreement by showing them a copy of the court order or threatening legal action.
Involve Your Child Custody Lawyer
It’s wise to consult with your trusted family law attorney every step of the way when dealing with the courts and child custody agreements because they can help you determine your best strategy and go to bat for you when things become emotional or complicated. Your lawyer will be your best friend when you’re dealing with parental interference. Filing for contempt can be different depending on your state and county, and you should consult with your attorney over contempt of court instructions in Spokane, WA.
Court Intervention Criteria
If one parent violates the child custody order, the other parent can file a legal motion asking the court to enforce the court-approved order and hold the other non-complying parent in contempt. When a person is held in contempt, the judge is saying they have disobeyed their order and disrespected the court.
Denying Visitation Rights Without Cause
Any parent that makes their child unavailable for the other parent’s court-ordered visitation time is in violation of the court’s order. This can include arranging activities that inflict with visitation times, planning events that overlap with the other parent’s visitations, or even repeatedly being late/early for drop-off/pickup of the child.
Denying Communication Between Parent and Child
Denying or interfering with communication between a parent and a child can be seen as contempt. A parent doesn’t need to cut off contact with the other parent completely—interference can be any conduct that hurts the parent-child relationships, such as blocking phone calls or deleting emails and texts. Willful denial of communication without reason will be seen as a violation of the child custody agreement.
Not Paying Child Support Without Having A Reason or Notifying to Court
Visitation and child support are separate entities—even if a parent fails to pay child support, the parent still gets to see their children. While you can file a motion against the parent that is failing to pay child support, you could also be held in contempt if you prevent that parent from having their visitation rights.
Putting the Child in Danger
The child’s interests are always the number one consideration of the courts, and they should also be the most important issue to both parents. Endangerment is the most compelling reason that a judge might change custody or modify the court order. If one parent is engaging in behavior that could harm the child, the courts might remove or severely limit the parent’s custodial rights.
Child custody violation consequences
If your ex-spouse refuses to comply with your custody order, they can be held in contempt of court. When they are held in contempt, there are a number of consequences that come with this violation.
One of the first things the court will do when there is a violation of the custody order is to modify the agreement, which might include reducing the visitation time of the violating parent. The court will modify the child custody agreement based on the evidence presented, to eliminate transportation issues, custody exchange problems, and more. Child removal in Washington is rare but can happen based on the severity of the situation.
Extra Child Care Fees
If the violating parent is found in contempt, the judge might order that they pay additional childcare fees, including the court fees of the non-violating parent. There are other financial remedies available, including any childcare costs that might have been accrued by the violating parent.
Counseling or Community Service
In some cases, the judge might order that the parent found in contempt attend counseling or serve community service time as punishment for violating the court order. The judge might reduce the violating parent’s visitation time to give them ample opportunity to complete their court-ordered counseling or community service.
If the court finds that the actions of the violating parent are above and beyond, including actions that led to child endangerment, they might order a permanent loss of custody and award full custody to the non-violating parent. The parent that files the legal paperwork to hold the violating parent in contempt might do so for a number of reasons, including sexual abuse, child abduction, domestic abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse. Child abuse itself is enough for the court to drastically reduce or permanently remove custody, and the seriousness of the evidence could also lead to jail time.
It’s typically rare for the court to threaten jail time over contempt, though the threat itself is often enough to persuade the offending parent to comply with the court order. In many cases, the judge will threaten jail time as a response to child endangerment allegations, especially if the evidence is severe.
Filing for contempt is somewhat similar to filing for divorce. The violating parent will need to be served, and you must show evidence in court that proves the violation was willful enough for them to be held in contempt.
Always contact your attorney—while you can represent yourself, it’s always a good idea to speak with an experienced family law attorney because they can advise you every step of the way and provide proper representation. A consultation will gain you valuable information and improve your odds of success.
Holding an ex-spouse in contempt can be a scary and stressful situation, and the judge will preside over all evidence at a hearing and decide whether or not the contempt has occurred. The judge will also specify how to resolve the issue, which might include punishments for the violating parent.
If you believe there has been a violation of your court-ordered child custody agreement, regardless of its severity, it’s a good idea to immediately consult with your attorney. This way you can get a second opinion, amass evidence, and put the well-being of your child first.
1. What should I do if my ex-spouse violates the custody agreement?
What you do depends in part on what the violation is and how serious it is. Keep a record of any violations. This can help if you decide you do want to enforce an order. You have different options.
2. How can I enforce the custody agreement if it is violated?
You can contact the local police department and ask them to enforce the order, contact the district attorney in your county, file a contempt of court, or get an updated order if things change.
3. What precautions should I take to prevent child abduction?
It is important to have a clear order with detailed information about travel, ask for a Child Abduction Prevention Order, and take other precautions such as keeping a record of the other parent’s family or friend’s addresses and telephone numbers.
4. What legal actions can I take to prevent child abduction?
You can ask for a judge to make an order to help prevent child abduction, such as supervised visitation or restrictions on travel. It is also advisable to get legal advice to understand your options.
5. What are the consequences of violating a custody agreement?
The consequences can range from modifications in the custody agreement, additional childcare fees, counseling or community service, permanent loss of custody, to jail time, depending on the severity of the violation.