Whether it is entered by the court or agreed upon by the parties, chances are there will be a visitation or timesharing schedule established as part of your child custody case. This schedule sets out specific times when the child is to be with each parent. This schedule is part of the divorce decree or child custody order and is enforceable by the court.
If you are the primary residential parent, it is incumbent upon you to encourage the child to go to these visits. "Encourage" might be too light of a wording, because the court expects you to make the child go. If you do not, it is not the child who gets punished. Instead, the other parent can file a motion for contempt; sometimes called a motion for rule to show cause. We have previously discussed these motions in terms of when one parent refuses to pay child support or bills as ordered in a divorce. It works much the same way in the realm of child visitation. One party files a motion with an accompanying affidavit alleging that the other parent is refusing to obey the child visitation order. If the court determines that is true, the parent disobeying the order can be sanctioned from a "slap on the wrist" and a stern lecture from the judge all the way up to six months in jail.
If you are the primary residential parent and you have a valid concern that the child is seriously endangered by the visitation such as evidence of abuse (and I mean solid evidence not just a suspicion), you can refuse the visitation. However, you cannot simply take a unilateral action. You will still need to file a motion to terminate the visitation with the court. The court will conduct a hearing and if the court does not believe there was a good faith basis to deny the visitation, you could still be held in contempt and/or the other parent will most likely be allowed to make up any time that was missed. "Crying wolf" and alleging abuse where there is none may also form the foundation for a motion to modify the timesharing and asking the court to designate the other parent as the primary residential parent.
Things get tougher when the child gets older and becomes a teenager. When the teenager decides she no longer wants to visit and has a life of her own it can make it difficult for the non-residential parent to maintain that relationship. It still remains the obligation of the primary residential parent to push the child to attend the visitation. Some judges are more lenient than others, but many judges are loathe to allow a child to begin to decide whether the court's orders will be followed. In situations where the residential parent cannot get the child to cooperate, the parent may be left with no choice but to file an action against the child as an out of control teen (also known as a status offender) and ask the court for assistance. Many parents hesitate to do this for fear of creating a record for the child or even giving the other parent ammunition to take them back to court.
Another point to be aware of is the fact that visitation and child support are two totally separate issues. If the other parent stops paying child support, that does not give you the right to stop visitations and vice versa. Courts do not appreciate these sort of "self-help" remedies.
Photo courtesy of DeptfordJon
Labels: best interest, child custody, child support, custody, divorce, divorce decree, divorce lawyer, ex husband, ex wife, family law attorney, modification, primary residential parent, time sharing, visitation