A child visitation agreement stipulates the amount of time that a child spends with each parent. Whether they are married or not, parents should exercise their visitation rights as soon as they part ways. Without a custody order or visitation schedule in place, the mother typically has all parental rights. If visitation has been established but one parent does not adhere to the guidelines, the other should take action immediately. Speaking to a visitation attorney is seriously important when this happens.
Establishing a Parenting Plan / Visitation Agreement
Establishing a visitation agreement or parenting plan is essential when it comes to making concrete plans that the other party cannot violate. A parenting plan (also called a custody judgment or visitation agreement) lays out all of the various rights and responsibilities of each parent in writing and is entered by a judge. This parenting plan will include issues such as: visitation times and dates, whether joint custody, sole custody, or shared custody is awarded to the parents, the rights of each parent to attend school and extracurricular activities, and the right of each parent to be kept up to date on all medical conditions or doctor appointments. When visitation has officially been established in writing by way of a parenting plan, it serves as a legal agreement to which each parent is bound. If one parent breaches the agreement, the other should initiate a discussion to find out why. It may be as simple as a change in work hours causing the parent to drop the child off late. This can be addressed by making a visitation schedule change.
Withholding a Child from Visitation
The situation becomes more serious when one parent withholds a child from visitation with the other parent. A custodial parent may do this to get the other parent to pay child support, agree to handle all transportation, or sometimes, just to spite their ex. From a legal perspective, child support and visitation are completely different things. A judge will frown upon a parent violating a visitation agreement for the purpose of obtaining past-due child support payments and this may result in the parent losing primary custody. In many states, the unreasonable denial of visitation as ordered by the court can even be a criminal offense. Although normally prosecution is withheld for only repeat offenders, the threat of being held in contempt of court by a judge can help keep the parent that threatens to withhold a child from visitation in line with the set schedule.
If a custodial parent occasionally withholds parenting time, the non-custodial parent should record the dates and times and request make-up time. If the custodial parent refuses to reschedule the missed visitation, the non-custodial parent should retain a child visitation attorney. In no case should the individual withhold child support or take the child without agreement. A parent that has been denied visitation must enter the court with “clean hands” in order to make a compelling and successful case to the judge. This means continuing to pay child support and continuing to offer reasonable makeup time offers in writing to the other parent. When all else fails, the filing of an emergency motion can get a parent in front of a judge in a matter of days and have the issue resolved quickly – albeit in court ordered fashion.
When a Parent Consistently Violates a Visitation Agreement
If parenting time/visitation is consistently withheld, this is a violation of the courts order. In some states, the non-custodial parent may go to the police for visitation enforcement. This would require having a copy of the visitation agreement for the police to view in person. However, police involvement can cause other problems with the custodial parent and may create trauma for the child. A wiser approach is to retain an attorney to file a court petition to enforce visitation rights. Some states consider non-compliance with a parenting order a very serious offense and the judge may decide to make a custody change. As previously stated, a number of states have begun making visitation denial a criminal offense and parents can be arrested and jailed for being held in contempt of court.
Each state uses different methods to enforce visitation so retaining a child visitation lawyer is always a good idea. Only an attorney is qualified to provide legal advice and help the non-custodial parent determine which course of action is the best. The goal should always be an outcome that maintains rights to visitation and is in the best interest of the child. When the best interests of your child are threatened, a child visitation attorney can be your best friend.