Examining Police Involvement in Child Custody Situations

  • Being denied parenting time or a scheduled visit can be an emotional experience that makes many consider calling the police.
  • Unless expressed consent from a judge in the language of the custodial agreement in that district, the police cannot enforce a civil order of custody.
  • Law enforcement agencies are attempting to create safer environments for custody exchanges to occur.

"As much as law enforcement agency would love to help parents that are justified in their outrage of not getting to spend time with their child, it is not on them, but on the courts, to punish those in violation of the child custody agreement."

With children, it can be difficult to determine how much of the ugliness of the divorce experience they have been a witness to. Even further, it can be even more challenging just trying to figure out how much they understand.

One of the more difficult situations to explain to a child is when police become involved in the child custody facilitation, in order to ensure the enforcement of the court order.

Emotional experience

When a co-parent refuses scheduled visitation and denies you parenting time, it can be an emotional experience. For you, as a parent, to be told that you are not allowed to see your children, when a court has said differently, it can add to the emotional intensity already in existence from the divorce.

Even if you have documentation confirming that there was a visit scheduled, it can be difficult getting past the emotions of the situation. After the difficulties surrounding proving your case for each side, the messiness of court may play a factor into the emotional landscape of refusing visitation, causing a need for outside intervention.

Unable to enforce

Even though you contact the police department to help enforce a court order, many jurisdictions may be hesitant to get involved with a civil dispute, unless there is the potential of criminal action. The police may say that you may need to take the issue up with the court.

According to Police Magazine, even though the law may support the noncustodial parent’s right to visitation, they cannot help them enforce a civil order of custody without the court’s directive. As much as they would like to assist in the process, their hands are tied in the matter.

“The police probably can’t do anything,” said Lt. John Jones, of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office in Gainesville, Florida. “The deputies will often respond, in order to prevent a domestic dispute from escalating, but usually, we try to tell them on the phone that our hands are tied and we can’t help them enforce a civil order.”

In situations where one parent is refusing child custody visitation or refusing a custody transfer, that parent may try and spin the situation and claim that the other parent is trespassing. However, that is not the legal case.

“He [The parent there for a custody transfer] is not trespassing, because he has a court order that says that he can be there,” said Jones. “[However], she’s not committing a crime we can arrest on.”

Most law enforcement agencies will advocate for pursuing any violations to the child custody agreement in court, where they can better illustrate custodial interference. Understanding what law enforcement agencies consider custodial interference to be will help you and your attorney illustrate that in court.

Custodial interference

According to the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake, a parent is guilty of custodial interference if, without good cause, they take, entice, detain, or conceal a child younger than the age of 16 from its parent, guardian, or other lawful custodian when the person knowingly has no right to do so and with the intent to hold the child for a period substantially longer than the parent-time or custody period previously award by a court competent jurisdiction.

Custodial interference also can entail one parent having actual physical custody of a child younger than the age of 16 preventing another parent, who has been granted custody rights, visitation, or parenting time with their child, by detaining or concealing the child with the intent to deprive the other parent of lawful time spent with their child.

It is considered a Class A misdemeanor, unless the child is removed and taken from one state to another, in which case it is a felony of the third degree.

State laws

Much of law enforcement’s approach to this situation is dependent on state law. For example, in states like North Carolina, some judges will include in custody orders language that states that law enforcement officers shall assist in the enforcement of this custody order or that law enforcement shall pick up the minor child and deliver the child to the custodial parent. This allows law enforcement to assist in the process.

However, most judges intentionally enter that type of language only when there is a reason to be concerned for the safety of the child. Furthermore, without this language, law enforcement officers do not have the authority to assist in fulfilling the terms of the civil order.

Cordell & Cordell understands the concerns men face during divorce.

‘Swap Spot’

This does not mean that law enforcement agencies have not tried in assisting the process in other ways, such as when the environment of the exchange is considered problematic. In Lincoln, Nebraska, the Lincoln Police Department is providing a well-lit surveillance-monitored location for people to meet for child custody exchanges, as well as transactions arranged online, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

It is called the “Swap Spot,” and it was adapted from another national police program aimed at reducing fraud and robberies rooted in meetings arranged on online. Officers will not act as witnesses or mediators, and anyone in need of emergency services must call 911 for assistance.

As far as custody exchanges go, they will not allow children to be left unattended at the Swap Spot.

Justified outrage

As justified as you may be to be outraged over denied parenting time, you do not have a lot of options outside of court. Enforcing child custody requires both parents to be aware of what the role the other fills in the lives of their shared children. It requires an acknowledgement of where the court orders of custody fit into their arrangement and how violating that court order is damaging for the long-term health of their case.

As much as law enforcement agency would love to help parents that are justified in their outrage of not getting to spend time with their child, it is not on them, but on the courts, to punish those in violation of the child custody agreement.

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