The process of going through the court system to establish a custody arrangement and visitation schedule can be exhausting and emotionally draining. When you’ve made it through all of that, only for your ex to start violating the terms of the court-ordered visitation schedule, it can feel like the last straw. What good is a court order if your ex won’t abide by its terms? What are you supposed to do? Take a look at some of the things that you can do if your ex breaks court-ordered visitation.
Can You Compromise?
If the failure to obey the visitation court order comes on the heels of a messy breakup or heated court battle, the last thing you might feel like doing is giving your ex even an inch of latitude. However, regardless of how you feel about your ex right now, you’re both involved in co-parenting your child and will continue to be for some time. That means that you need to find ways to work together wherever possible, and this may be as good a place to start as any.
Reach out to your ex and find out why they’re not complying with the visitation order. Use text or email if you can, so that you have a record of the conversation. If there’s a temporary issue that’s preventing your ex from complying with the court order, there may be a reasonable agreement that you can work out between the two of you. For example, if your ex’s car is broken down, you could offer to provide transportation for your children’s visitation yourself, rather than missing it entirely. This may be inconvenient for you, but it’s still likely a better solution than losing out on time with your children or going through another court battle because of a temporary problem.
Keep Good Documentation
In addition to communicating with your ex in a way that leaves a record, such as by text message or email, you should also be keeping track of times when your ex violates the visitation agreement, or when you and your ex agree to make temporary changes to the agreement.
For example, if your ex asks you to switch weekends with them so that they can attend a work event on what would normally be a visitation weekend for them, that’s a reasonable request that you can agree to if it works for you. But document it on your calendar, and by keeping a record of the conversation if possible, so that your ex can’t later say that you withheld the kids on their weekend.
Similarly, if your ex is frequently late dropping the kids off with you or early to pick them up, you should document when this happens as well. This is annoying behavior that may violate your visitation order, but if the time differences aren’t extreme, it may not be worth dropping everything to go back to court over this behavior. However, if the behavior escalates – if your ex starts showing up hours early or refuses to bring the kids home at all on the day that they’re due, for example – it can help to have a record of previous similar behavior. If you do have to go back to court, you’ll be able to show the judge that your ex’s behavior was part of an escalating pattern, not a one-time mistake.
Should You Call the Police?
A family court visitation order is a legal document. It can be enforced by the police or by going back to court and asking the judge to impose penalties if the person refuses to comply with the order. So technically, you could call the police if your ex is violating the order.
In practice, however, calling the police doesn’t always work out well in custody cases. A police report might be useful documentation in court, and the appearance of police on your ex’s doorstep might give them new motivation to comply with the court order, so that’s something to consider. But in many locations, the police are reluctant to get involved in enforcing family court orders unless there’s a question of abuse or it’s escalated to the point of parental kidnapping. If you call the police, they may simply tell you to take your complaint to the family court.
There’s also the possibility that calling the police will further escalate the conflict between you and your ex, making it even more difficult for the two of you to find common ground and work together to raise your child. Even worse, there’s always the possibility that calling the police will result in a hostile or even violent situation between your ex and the police – and that your children will be witnesses to that. Those situations are difficult to predict because a lot depends on the temperament and training of the police officers that respond to your call, but it’s important to understand that the police aren’t necessarily trained in mediating family conflict or de-escalating volatile situations. It’s not wrong to call the police to enforce a visitation order if you need to, but it is a judgment call with some potentially serious downsides.
If you don’t want to call the police but you do want to enforce your visitation order, your other option is to file a Motion to Enforce with the family court. The court can do several things to help you – they can reaffirm the visitation schedule, award you make-up days to make up for parenting time lost because of your ex’s noncompliance, and they can even order your ex to reimburse you for legal fees and court costs that you’ve spent because of their noncompliance. If your ex continues to refuse to comply, they can be held in contempt of court and may see their visitation reduced, restricted, or rescinded entirely.
Whatever you do, don’t try to punish your ex for breaking the agreement by lashing out verbally or physically, badmouthing your ex to your child, or withholding child support. Those actions will only hurt your children or damage your own standing in the eyes of a judge.