If you and your child’s other parent have split up, child custody has become very important. Depending on the specifics of your situation, you both might share custody, or one of you might have custody while the other has visitation rights. In some circumstances, one parent might have supervised visitation or even no visitation, but most of the time, both parents can spend unsupervised time with their children. What happens if one parent does not allow the other to have the child when they are supposed to, though? Would it be considered a violation of visitation interference? Let us find out.
Parenting Agreements and Custody Orders
First, it is important to understand the difference between an informal agreement and a custody order. Most of the time, when a couple decides to divorce or live separately, they decide together what the parenting agreement will look like. If the parents live near each other and their work schedules allow, they might both have roughly equal time with the child.
For example, the child might spend several days per week with one parent and the rest of the week with the other parent, with weekends alternating between the two. If this is not possible or desirable, then one parent might keep the child most of the time while the other has him or her every other weekend and perhaps one evening during the workweek.
Many combinations are possible; this is just an example. Parents will also need to work out who will have the child on holidays and how vacations and traveling will work. When these details are figured out, it is called a parenting plan. It can be verbal or understood, but it’s much more effective and enforceable when writing as part of an official parenting plan.
The court will approve this official parenting plan, and it will become the custody order. If the parents cannot agree, even after mediation and working with a legal resource group, a judge might have to determine where they will live. In this case, the custody orders will come directly from the judge. Some common possibilities include (but is not limited to):
- Joint custody; sole custody for one parent with limited visitation for the other parent.
- Primary custody for one parent with ample visitation for the other parent.
In general, the courts want both parents to be able to have time with the child, but in some cases (usually involving child abuse, drug abuse, or severe and untreated mental illness), it’s not safe or possible; in these cases, there may be an only supervised visitation or even no visitation granted.
What Is Child Visitation Interference?
Once visitation or custody orders have been granted, then both parents must follow them. If you prevent your child’s other parent from taking advantage of their ordered visitation or custody, then you might be interfering in their visitation. That is going against court orders and will generally not be looked upon kindly by the courts.
One example of child visitation interference is refusing to turn the child over to the other parent when their visitation occurs. In this example, one parent might not answer the door to allow the other parent to have their visitation or might not show up with the child at a designated meeting place.
Another example, depending on the circumstances and the orders in place, might be not letting them communicate with their other parent. This might mean that the non-custodial parent cannot talk on the telephone or Facetime with the child at bedtime even though that is their usual practice.
What Is Not Child Visitation Interference
There are some exceptions to this general rule. For example, if you are having car trouble and cannot bring your child to their designated drop-off place and explain this to your ex, you will not commit child visitation interference. Or if your child is sick with the flu and you explain to his or her other parent that their trip to the zoo will need to be rescheduled, that’s not generally going to be looked at as interference with visitation rights.
Of course, if this happens regularly, then it might be. Also, this missed parenting time should be made up later most of the time. If you believe that your child is in immediate danger, then you should contact the local authorities as well as your lawyer or legal resource group for help. Not letting your child go into a dangerous situation is not interference with visitation rights. Your next step might be petitioning the court for a change in custody, particularly if it is a regular problem.
Legal Consequences of Interference with Child Visitation Rights
The courts will not allow one parent to interfere with the other’s visitation rights. If this happens, the offending parent might have to arrange for the child to make up for the other parent’s missed time. The offending parent might also be responsible for court costs for both parties.
Sometimes, the offending parent will lose the custody they had; for example, the parent whose rights were interfered with might become the parent where they spend more time. The offending parent might have less visitation than before. In severe cases, the offending parent might be fined or even sentenced to prison time.
Interfering with your ex’s child visitation rights without a clear reason (such as your child being in imminent danger) can be a criminal act. It is important to contact a legal resource group like National Family Solutions if you feel that your child visitation rights are being interfered with.
You can also contact us if you think that your child is in danger if they go with your ex and you want to petition the court for changes to your custody agreement. Do not make decisions about whether to refuse your ex their court-mandated visitation because you are upset with your ex or for other trivial reasons; that might be against the law and will not work out in your favor.