How to Enforce Your Child Custody Order

Do not rush to court over minor violations of a child custody order. The judge expects parents to act reasonably and handle minor disputes themselves. How to enforce your child custody order starts by communicating your expectations to the other parent. Keep a record if violations happen more than once. Repeated violations be taken to court as a means to enforce your child custody order. Learn more in our free legal guide below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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You have been awarded legal custody and the other parent has visitation rights. The details are contained in a court order. What can you do when the other parent violates or disobeys a child custody order?

Examples of common child custody order violations include situations where the parent in violation constantly picks up or returns the child late from visits on the weekends, or even keeps the child overnight contrary to the court order. Or, the other parent may “bad mouth” you with disparaging comments in the presence of the child, which is very often forbidden by child custody orders.

Should you go to court over minor violations of the child custody order?

Be aware that courts expect parents to follow custody orders, but at the same time they are not eager to referee a child custody dispute or deal with inconsequential alleged violations.

Also, keep in mind that courts expect both parents to act reasonably. Rushing to the courtroom with something minor (and that does not actually harm the child) is not a good idea and can backfire.

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What is the importance of communicating clearly and fairly with the other parent about the child custody order?

Therefore, communicate clearly with the other parent. With respect, tell the parent what you think the issue is and your ideas of how to resolve it. If the other parent’s actions are hurting the child, explain how you feel in detail, but without accusing or berating the other parent.

The court expects you to do this. Keep a record to protect yourself, but do not try to “set up” the other parent. That will not do you or your children any good in the long run and the court will likely see through any manipulation by either party.

Having certified copies of the court order is essential. For example, if the child has not been returned from a visitation and you call law enforcement officers, they usually will not assist you unless you have a copy of the court order.

Do you have credible evidence of the child custody violation, not just accusations?

If you cannot get the situation resolved and you need to head to court remember that judges are influenced by provable facts, not allegations. The two most valuable assets you have are your credibility and your desire to prevent harm to the child.

For example, if you claim that the other parent always brings the child late to school show the judge documentation like the attendance records or bring witnesses from the school to court.

If a parent in contempt is violating the order, a judge can change the custody arrangements, and a court may do so where one parent is uncooperative or fails to obey the order. Courts can impose a monetary fine or even on rare occasions jail time if the parent is “held in contempt”, that is, found to have disobeyed a court order.

However, courts, if possible, usually address custody violations by changing the court order. For example, if the non-custodial parent always returns the child late from overnight visits then overnight visits may be reduced or eliminated.

What if a parent with physical custody refuses to make the child available for a visit?

In that case, a court may change the child custody agreement entirely. But remember, judges will try to avoid punishing children by reducing the parenting time the child spends with the other parent.

Above all, do not put the child in the middle or appear as if you are acting vindictively. Remember that the court is always concerned with the best interests of your children, and if your behavior appears to lack concern for how your request affects the children or if you request that the court take action because you are angry with the other parent, you are unlikely to get a favorable reaction from the court.

Put your child’s interests first. Show the court exactly how the violations of the custody order harm your child and how your efforts to work this out with the other parent failed.

If you have questions about child custody laws or any questions in general, a family law attorney will be the one to turn to for help.

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