In a divorce or separation context, one parent might have more custody of a child or children than the other. This person is usually called the “custodial parent”, while the other parent is called the “noncustodial parent”. In such arrangements, the noncustodial parent may be granted visitation rights. This means there are set times that they can visit with the child and spend time with them.

While visitation rights are typically granted, a court can deny or restrict visitation for various reasons. A common situation is where the court believes that the child might be in danger due to the visitation. The court can deny or restrict visitation if for example, the non-custodial parent: 

  • Has molested the child; 
  • Is likely to kidnap the child; or 
  • Is likely to use illegal drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol while caring for the child. 

There are also times when a custodial parent denies the other parent visitation rights without the court’s permission. Denying visitation to the other parent without a court’s permission is illegal and can lead to serious legal repercussions.  

What are Some Common Reasons for Denying Child Visitation to a Parent?

There are some common reasons a custodial parent might deny the other parent their parent visitation rights. These can include:

  • The non-custodial parent is not paying child support;
  • Disapproval of other parent’s relationships, such as a new partner (this is usually not a valid reason for denying visitation, unless the partner brings up a valid issue like if the partner has a criminal record as a sex offender);
  • Drug or alcohol abuse;
  • Child abuse incarceration;
  • Fear of Abduction;
  • Religious differences; and
  • Child’s wishes, if the child is old enough.

If there is a valid, court-approved custody order in force, denying visitation is illegal and can have serious legal repercussions for the parent who denies visitation. 

In some jurisdictions, a custodial parent may legally deny visitation the non-custodial parent would risk exposing the child to immediate bodily injury or emotional harm. However, the custodial parent must still take specific steps before denying visitation, such as notifying the appropriate authorities. This is usually only permitted in exceptional circumstances.

Can I Ask the Court to Deny Child Visitation?

Yes. In fact, this is the legally preferred method for restricting visitation, even if the courts may not grant such a request. Remember that family courts are bound to make decisions based on the child’s best interest. As such, judges will only permit the restriction or denial of visitation rights for very specific  circumstances. 

However, some circumstances may create a suspension of visitation rather than permanent custody change, such as :

  • Violence or physical harm to the child;
  • Child abduction (also known as parental kidnapping):
  • Emotional abuse of the child;
  • Substance abuse, especially with illegal substances;
  • Parental incarceration (though this may result in suspension rather than custody change);
  • Extreme sexual behavior or exposure to such conduct which may have a harmful effect on the child.

Can You Lose Custody if You Deny the Other Parent Visitation?

A parent can sometimes lose custody of their child by denying the other parent their visitation rights if there isn’t a court order denying visitation. In any situation, if a custodial parent does not want their children to be in contact with the other parent, then they would need to get the original custody order changed by the court in order to deny the other parent visitation rights. 

The entire process must be run through the court system and cannot be done solely at the parent’s own will or decision. If that parent refuses to go through the system and goes so far as to remove the child and hide the child’s location, then they run the very high risk of losing their custodial rights. 

Can a Court Punish the Custodial Parent for Denying Visitation?

This question depends on state laws as well as individual judges, although punishments for breaching visitation agreements are not uncommon. Punishments are typically based on the frequency and length of denial. 

Such punishments may include:

  • Make-up visits for the non-custodial parent;
  • Suspension of child support; and
  • Change of custody.

Is it Ever Legal to Deny a Parent Child Visitation?

It is almost never legal to deny visitation without a valid court order. For instance, if the non-custodial parent is late on child support, then visitations must continue anyway unless the court says otherwise. You should consult the court if child support is a problem. 

If the non-custodial parent is abusive or has very obvious problems, such as drinking or using drugs, then it is best for the custodial parent to call the police or other authorities to handle it. As a general rule, if there is a problem with one parent, the other parent should always pursue the proper legal course of action rather than take the law into his or her own hands.

How is Child Visitation Restricted?

Restricted visitation means that the visitation occurs only under supervision. A court judgment on visitation specifies the conditions of supervised visitation, and what role the supervisor should have. Unsupervised visitation is usually not allowed until after the offending parent completes an abuse prevention program and doesn’t become violent for some time. 

In some cases, you may believe that denying the non-custodial parent visitation is in the best interest of your child. In such instances, you would need to review your state's child custody laws to determine whether the denial is legally allowed. You will also need to check what the acceptable reasons to request a modification of your original child custody orders are. 

Courts require the requesting parent to prove that the non-custodial parent has exhibited behaviors that have harmed the child, such as abusing or neglecting the child.

Can Child Visitation Rights Be Suspended?

Visitation could also be suspended under certain circumstances. These include: 

  • Repeated violations of the visitation requirements; 
  • The child is severely distressed because of the visitation; or 
  • There are clear indications that the violent parent has threatened to harm the child or flee with the child.

Visitation rights are not guaranteed and can be suspended, denied, or restricted if the court decides that such changes are in the child’s best interest.

How Do I Enforce My Visitation Rights?

If you are being denied your legal rights to visitation, you have several options. If you are able to contact the custodial parent, you may first want to attempt to contact them to find out the reason they are preventing visitation. 

If this does not resolve the issue, you can consider taking the following actions:

  • Document the Violation: You should attempt to make a record of the denial of visitation. For instance, you can take note of the date and location where a custody exchange was supposed to happen but didn’t;
  • Contact the Police: If you have a copy of the court visitation order, you can contact the police for assistance and file a police report. You may also schedule a civil standby at the custodial parent’s residence (or at the custody exchange location) so the police can supervise the exchange;
  • Contact the District Attorney’s Office: Many district attorney offices have dedicated child abduction units. These are often tasked with helping parents enforce custody and visitation orders and preventing abduction;
  • File a Motion: If the custodial parent is consistently denying you visitation, you can file a motion requesting updated orders from the court. In your motion, you can ask the court to modify the custody order, enforce the custody order, or issue sanctions or other orders to prevent future violations;
  • File for Contempt: Contempt is a judicial proceeding brought against a person who violates a court order such as a visitation order. In contempt proceedings, the court may issue sanctions (fines) or require that the violator serve jail time.

Should I Hire a Lawyer If I Have an Issue with Child Visitation?

If you are seeking to enforce your visitation rights with your children, it may be in your best interests to consult a child visitation lawyer to discuss your options. Working with a lawyer in your area can help you understand your rights and help you deal with the complicated legal system.