During a child custody or divorce proceeding, one parent may be granted a greater portion of rights over a couple’s children than the other parent. This person is typically referred to as the “custodial parent”, whereas the other parent is known as the “noncustodial parent”. In such cases, the noncustodial parent will usually be given a basic set of visitation rights. Visitation rights are what enable a parent to visit and spend time with a separated couple’s children.
While courts generally prefer to grant both parents some sort of rights over their children, it is in a court’s discretion to deny a noncustodial parent visitation rights if it would be in the best interests of a child. For instance, if the custodial parent can prove that the noncustodial parent is violent or abusive towards their children, then a court may deny them visitation rights.
Some other reasons that a court may deny or restrict a noncustodial parent’s visitation rights include:
- If there is evidence that a noncustodial parent molested a child;
- If there is evidence that a noncustodial parent is likely to kidnap or has kidnapped a child in the past; and/or
- If there is evidence that the noncustodial parent abuses drugs or alcohol; especially, if it is done in the child’s presence.
In addition, a custodial parent may wrongfully take matters into their own hands and deny a noncustodial parent’s visitation rights without the approval of a court. When this type of situation arises, it can lead to serious legal repercussions for the custodial parent if they cannot provide a good reason.
Therefore, it is very important that both parents speak to a court about any changes they need to make to an existing child visitation order and not to do it on their own.
What are Some Common Reasons for Denying Child Visitation to a Parent?
There are a number of reasons as to why a custodial parent may want to deny a noncustodial parent visitation rights over their child. Some common reasons for denying child visitation to a parent may include the following:
- If the parents have differing views on how to educate the child or which religion the child should be raised as being;
- When one or both of the parents abuses drugs and/or alcohol;
- If a parent has been accused of child abuse, domestic violence, or sexual assault of a minor;
- When a noncustodial parent is behind on child support (note that it is illegal to deny visitation rights unless there is a court order approving such drastic measures);
- If a parent disapproves of the other parent’s new partner and does not want them around the child; and
- When a child does not want to visit or spend time with their other parent.
As discussed above, it is illegal to deny visitation rights to a parent when there is a valid court order in place. A parent who ignores a child visitation court order can face serious repercussions. If the parents need to change it, they must petition the court for a modification.
In cases where a parent believes their child is in immediate danger from the other parent, they must first take several steps before flat out denying visitation rights, such as calling the local police or alerting child support services. However, this is usually only advised in severe emergency situations.
Can I Ask the Court to Deny Child Visitation?
A parent may ask the court to deny child visitation rights to the other parent under certain circumstances. This is the typical method that a parent must pursue in order to deny child visitation rights to the other parent. However, this does not necessarily mean that a court will approve the request.
Again, courts must make a determination based on applying the child’s best interest standard and denying visitation may not be in the child’s best interest in some cases. Most courts will only deny or restrict visitation rights in very limited situations. Some conditions that may lead to a court suspending a parent’s visitation rights over their child may include:
- If it can be proven that the parent is violent or sexually abusive towards the child;
- If the parent has been known to abduct or kidnap the child;
- If the parent is emotionally abusive towards the child;
- If the parent abuses illegal substances, such as drugs, and frequently does so in front of the child;
- If the parent exhibits any other behavior that would be harmful to the child’s well-being and development; and
- If the parent is incarcerated (note that this may change once the parent is released from prison).
Can You Lose Custody if You Deny the Other Parent Visitation?
It is possible for a parent to lose custody of their child if they deny the other parent visitation rights. Only a court may deny the other parent visitation rights over their child. As previously discussed, if a custodial parent wants to prevent a noncustodial parent from spending time with their child, then they must obtain a court order that denies visitation rights to the noncustodial parent.
Again, the decision must be processed through the legal system and cannot be done simply on a parent’s whim. If a custodial parent refuses to use a court and goes so far as to hide or remove a child from their residence to a secret location, then they will likely be at risk of losing custody over their child. They may also potentially lose their other parental rights as well.
Can a Court Punish the Custodial Parent for Denying Visitation?
Whether a court may punish a custodial parent for denying visitation rights to the other parent, will depend on the jurisdiction. In most instances, a court will opt to punish a parent who denies the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights. This is especially true in cases where a child visitation court order already exists. The punishment may be issued in accordance with the frequency and length of the custodial parent’s denial of visitation rights.
Some examples of the types of punishments that a custodial parent can receive for denying a noncustodial parents visitation rights include the following:
- A modification of their child custody order, granting child custody rights to the other parent;
- A suspension or denial of future child support payments, maintenance, or spousal support;
- An admonishment of the custodial parent by the court in person; and/or
- Holding a custodial parent in contempt of court.
Is it Ever Legal to Deny a Parent Child Visitation?
As discussed throughout many of the above sections in this article, it is almost never legal to deny visitation rights to a parent without the permission of a court. For example, if a noncustodial parent is behind on child support payments, visitations must continue regardless unless a court rules otherwise. If this becomes a recurring issue, the custodial parent should seek help from a family law judge.
Again, if a noncustodial parent is abusing alcohol or is behaving violently towards a child, then the custodial parent should call the local authorities for assistance. As a general rule of thumb, if there is an issue with one of the child’s parents, the other parent should always use the proper legal channels, as opposed to taking matters into their own hands.
How is Child Visitation Restricted?
In general, being granted restricted visitation means that a parent will need to have any visits with their child supervised by a neutral third party. The neutral third party is usually a social worker who is assigned by a court. In most cases, the child visitation court order will specify the conditions of a restricted visitation, such as what role the social worker should play or whether the supervisor who is assigned can simply be a family member.
A parent may be able to obtain unrestricted visitation rights after they complete an abuse prevention program or receive rehabilitative treatment for alcohol and drugs. A parent who believes that restricted visitations would be in the best interests of their child for these reasons should review the laws in their jurisdiction. Such laws will dictate the procedures for how to go about securing restricted visitations and when they may be permissible in the jurisdiction.
The majority of family law courts will require the parent requesting restricted visitations to prove why the other parent should be supervised during visits with their own child. For instance, a custodial parent would need to show proof that the noncustodial parent has neglected or abused their child in the past.
Can Child Visitation Rights Be Suspended?
Child visitation rights can be suspended for a number of reasons. Such reasons may include the following:
- When a parent repeatedly violates or ignores the requirements of a child visitation court order;
- If there are implications that a parent has been violent, has threatened to harm, or has threatened to kidnap a child;
- When a child is upset by the other parent or does not want to spend time with the other parent; and/or
- Various other reasons that would affect a child’s safety, health, or overall well-being.
As previously mentioned, a parent’s visitation rights can absolutely be suspended, restricted, or denied by a court if there is proof that such changes would be in accordance with a child’s best interests.
How Do I Enforce My Visitation Rights?
If a parent is being denied their visitation rights to spend time with their child, there are a few steps that they may be able to take to reinforce their visitation rights. The most important step to take in such situations is to contact the custodial parent to make sure there are no misunderstandings.
In the event that a noncustodial parent cannot reach the custodial parent or if the custodial parent is refusing to speak to them, then they may need to do the following:
- Document any violations: A parent whose visitation rights have been violated should document each instance in which they have been denied visitation with their child. For example, they can note the location, time, and date of when a custody exchange was supposed to take place, but did not due to the other parent’s alleged intentional conduct.
- Contact the appropriate authorities: If there is a child visitation court order in place, the parent can contact the local authorities for further assistance and file a report with the police. In some cases, the authorities may even be willing to schedule a civil standby, which is when a child custody exchange occurs with police supervision.
- Communicate with the District Attorney’s Office: Many jurisdictions have a child abduction department located within their local district attorney’s office. These departments can assist in enforcing child custody and visitation court orders. They can also help in preventing a parent from abducting a child.
- File a motion in court: If a custodial parent consistently denies a noncustodial parent their right to visit or spend time with their child, then the noncustodial parent may want to consider filing a motion to request a modification or update of the parents’ child visitation court order. Within this motion, the noncustodial parent may request that the court modify, enforce, issue sanctions, or use other measures to prevent future violations of their visitation rights.
- File a petition for contempt of court: Contempt is a type of judicial proceeding that is brought against a person who is in violation of a court order like a child visitation order. In a contempt proceeding, a judge may issue sanctions, such as fines or require that the offender serve some amount of jail time for violating a court order.
Should I Hire a Lawyer If I Have an Issue with Child Visitation?
It is highly encouraged that you consult with a local child visitation lawyer if you are seeking to obtain or enforce child visitation rights. A lawyer who has experience in handling child visitation matters will be able to inform you about your legal rights as a parent in accordance with the laws of your state. Your lawyer can also discuss your options in regard to how you can obtain or enforce your existing child visitation rights.
In addition, your lawyer will be able to assist you in navigating the legal system should you need to file any paperwork in court as well as can provide legal representation before a family law judge if necessary to resolve your matter.