Getting through a custody hearing and getting a parenting plan in place legally can be a hassle. In some cases, once the legal wrangling is over, things fall into place and go smoothly as you move forward. But in other cases, getting the custody order is only half the battle. Sometimes parents refuse to comply with a custody order, even when instructed to by a judge. Failure to follow a custody order can look different depending on the situation. Sometimes parents will violate the order in little w ays, like always running late when they’re supposed to drop off the children or coming up with frequent excuses for why the children can’t come for their scheduled visitation. In other cases, the custody order violations can be as extreme as one parent kidnapping their own children. Take a look at what you need to know about enforcing your custody rights if your ex refuses to follow the order.
One of the most important things that you can do if you’re having difficulty getting your ex to comply with a custody order is to keep careful records of when and how the custody order has been violated. For example, if your ex is always late to meet you when it’s your turn to spend time with the kids, write down the date, how late they were, and any other circumstances that seem relevant, including any witnesses. If your ex tells you that the kids can’t come on your scheduled day and time, write that down too.
Keeping records is important because if your ex is refusing to comply with the custody order, there’s a good chance that you may eventually wind up back in family court in front of a judge, and as you probably know from your experience getting the original custody agreement, judges like to see evidence of any claims that you make. Written records, including times and dates, as well as the names of witnesses, if any, are all evidence that you can use in court.
Have a Conversation
You are probably understandably frustrated with your situation, but it’s still a good idea to try to have a conversation with your child’s other parent before pursuing any type of legal action. This is important because taking legal action – even if it’s justified – is liable to fan the flames of hostility between you. If your children are young, you’re going to be dealing with their other parent in some way for many years to come. To the extent that it’s possible, it’s in both your best interest and your children’s best interest to be as diplomatic as possible, as long as your children aren’t in any danger.
Sometimes a simple conversation is all that’s necessary to straighten out a custody issue. For example, you might find out that your ex hasn’t been bringing the children to you when scheduled because their car broke down or because they’re having trouble affording transportation. In that case, simply offering to pick them up yourself or chip in for the cost of transportation could solve the problem, and if that’s something you can do, you should do it.
If you can, try to have the conversation with your ex in a way that leaves a record, such as through text message or via email. That way, if they refuse to explain themselves or cooperate, you have more evidence that can help you as you consider your next steps.
Of course, there are circumstances where you should not try contacting your ex first. For example, if there’s a restraining order or no-contact order in place, don’t violate it to have a conversation about custody and visitation. Or, if your ex has done something extreme, like kidnapping your children, or if you have reason to believe that your children are in danger, you can skip contacting your ex and go straight to the next step.
Contacting the Police
Whether you can or should contact the police depends on several factors, including your state and the specific circumstances around your ex’s custody order violation. In some states, police can enforce custody orders. However, it’s worth noting that even if they can enforce the order, police departments are often not eager to involve themselves in custody cases.
It’s also important to realize that calling the police is probably going to be interpreted by your ex as an escalation on your part. Nobody wants the police knocking at their door, and sending the police is likely not going to be an act that will be received kindly. The experience may scare your ex into sticking to the custody order, but it also may cause them to take even more drastic steps to keep you apart from your children.
It’s also worth pointing out that calling the police can be dangerous in some cases. Police are not always skilled at de-escalating tense situations and in some cases, their presence may pour fuel on the fire. People have gotten hurt for failing to comply with police instructions – or for simply being perceived as failing to comply. Keep in mind that if you call the police, your children will probably be witnesses to whatever happens next and may be in the line of fire themselves. None of that means that you shouldn’t call the police if you need to, but it’s worth considering carefully before you do so.
Going Back to Court
If your ex is failing to comply with the custody order, but not violating it egregiously enough to warrant a call to the police, your next step will likely be going back to court with your evidence. The judge can enforce the custody order in a variety of ways. They can award you makeup days to make up for missed time with your children, change the custody order to give you more parenting time on an ongoing basis, or order supervised visitation or supervised transfers.
A judge can also hold a parent who refuses to comply with the custody order in contempt, which may mean that they’ll have to spend time in jail or pay fines or both, in addition to complying with either the original order or a new custody order put in place by the judge.
If you’re having trouble getting your ex to comply with the custody order, you may need legal resources to help you learn about your options for enforcement. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help give you the information and support you need to enforce your right to parent your children.