Although strides have been made toward making equal custody the default standard, it has yet to catch on in the majority of states. Until then, many perfectly fit and loving fathers are going to be regulated to default visitation schedules that typically fall into the ballpark of every other weekend plus one evening per week.
It is already problematic enough to maintain a strong relationship with your children when you are limited to such a relatively small amount of visitation, and this becomes even more complicated when you have a… difficult… ex who doesn’t seem to think your days are important.
When your ex denies you visitation on your court-ordered schedule, it can be an incredibly frustrating experience — particularly if it becomes a pattern. You may be left feeling hopeless and wonder exactly what you can do.
Many non-custodial parents simply give up at this point; however, that is not the solution.
You need to continue to fight for whatever rights the court granted to you through all legal channels that are available. You also need to avoid making common mistakes that could wind you up in trouble.
Document any missed visitation
Maintain a calendar of any time you were denied visitation, no matter the reason. Also keep copies of any correspondence with your ex, which means keeping things civil on your end. Any texts, emails or letters should be kept professional and on topic.
This will help you build a case if you end up in court seeking enforcement of your order, and helps prove that you made every attempt to exercise your visitation rights.
Solve the issue as adults
Ideally, if you and your spouse are committed to your children and effective co-parenting, you will be able to resolve any minor issues before they escalate. Before going to higher authorities, attempt to remedy the issue at the lowest possible rung — between you and your ex.
When there is occasional confusion or conflicting schedules, try to set up additional days to make up for any lost time. This is the most effective method for cutting down on future tension, even though it may be extremely frustrating at the time.
Co-parenting does take flexibility, and if there hasn’t been a history of problems or there is a potential legitimate excuse, at least try to work things out amicably before jumping to the next level.
Have your attorney send a strongly-worded letter
If your ex will not cooperate in making up missed visitation, having your family law attorney send an official letter is often enough to get them to knock off the impetuous behavior.
Make it clear that you are willing to resolve the issue outside of the courtroom and avoid that extra headache, but any denial of the court-ordered visitation must cease immediately and any missed days must be made up.
This shows that you aren’t going to be bullied and have your rights pushed aside, and also proves that a good-faith attempt was made to resolve the issue without court interference if you eventually have to pursue enforcement.
Police may be able to help
Parenting time orders issued by the court are technically enforceable by local police; however, many departments are hesitant to get involved with civil issues unless there is a potential of criminal action.
If they are willing to help, it will likely come in form of either calling the opposing party and urging them to comply with the court order, or by escorting you to pick your children up from the prescribed location.
Note that in all likelihood, the police will tell you to take the issue up with the court.
Utilize the courts
If you are unable to resolve the issue of your ex denying your parenting time through any other means, you can raise the issue before a judge. This process is a little more extensive, though if you are in the right and your ex is in the wrong, it can be a very effective method for permanently fixing the problem.
Through filing a Motion to Enforce, you are able to ask the court to intervene and require your ex to comply with the order. It is also possible to have the court issue make-up days for any time missed, as well as order the cost of court and attorney fees to your ex if they are found to be guilty of willfully disobeying the visitation schedule.
This is why documentation is crucial to build your case. If you are able to show when the order was ignored, any excuses given by your ex and your repeated attempts to resolve the problem before presenting it to court, you will have a good chance to successfully convince the judge to take action.
It is important to contact an experienced family law attorney before moving forward with this step. They will be able to advise the best course of action, and could possibly recommend contempt charges or a modification of custody if there is a pattern of non-compliance or severe breach of the order.
Every attempt should be made to keep things between you and your ex as cordial as possible for the sake of the kids, so only resort to the courts after you have exhausted every other available option.
Do NOT stop paying child support
Many men feel that if they are being denied the right to their scheduled visitation, then they shouldn’t have to pay their court-ordered child support. Unfortunately, windmills do not work that way.
Just because your rights are being infringed when your ex ignores a court order does not give you the right to return the favor. You must continue to follow the child support obligation while you attempt to resolve the issues with visitation, and failure to do so can result in serious consequences.
Arrearages can build up, your accusations of contempt against your ex can be thrown right back at you and there is even a possibility of fines or jail time for willful non-payment. It may not be fair, but you must take the high road to succeed in convincing the courts that you are in the right.
Judges have very little tolerance for refusing to pay child support, and without an order stating the obligation has changed, you must follow what is written in your decree.
Do NOT take matters into your own hands
Simply taking the children for any period of time beyond what is prescribed by your court order can have even more serious ramifications. Despite the fact that you may feel you are “owed” extra time due to your spouse’s refusal to let you exercise your visitation, it can be considered parental kidnapping.
You risk arrest and your spouse can make a very strong case to have your visitation modified to require supervision or your amount of time reduced if they decide to call the police and file a motion with the courts.
While many of these options clearly do not offer instantaneous results, it is always in your best interests to work within the bounds of the law.
If you are not able to resolve visitation disputes amicably, it may be necessary to contact a skilled family law attorney to help you determine the best course of action so that you are always able to see your children in the limited time allotted by the court.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”