Child custody is a legal term describing the legal and practical relationship a person has over a child in their care. There are various types of child custody orders, but a legal guardian typically has physical supervision of the child and can also make decisions for the child’s upbringing.

Legal custody also allows the legal guardian to make decisions about the child’s schooling, healthcare, and religious upbringing. Many states allow joint legal custody. Other types of child custody include physical, joint, sole, and “birds nest” custody.

Child visitation refers to the rights of the non-custodial parent to spend time with their child who is under the custody of another person. Child visitation rights cannot be denied without the consent of a court.

The terms of visitation are usually set forth in a visitation schedule. “Child’s Best Interest Standard” generally comes into play when the court is considering both the custody and visitation rights of a child. Both custody and visitation must be court ordered.

My Child Custody/Visitation Court Order Was Violated, What Can I Do?

Violation of visitation orders occurs when one party fails to comply with the terms set forth by the court in a child custody/visitation order. Parents usually violate a visitation order by keeping a child for too long or failing to pick up the child at the agreed upon time.

Other examples include allowing someone else to pick up the child without prior court authorization, attempting to visit or contact the child at non-appointment times, and attempting to change the visitation schedule. You have many options to choose from if your court order is being violated. Some of these are:

  • Call the Police: Call the police if you are unable to resolve the issue on your own, or feel like your or the child’s safety is being threatened. Filing a temporary restraining order or protective order are other options in more severe cases.
  • Seek Legal Assistance: Alert your attorney about the violations. Your attorney can send a letter notifying the other parent about legal penalties for not obeying the court order.
  • File a Motion with the Court: You can file a motion for contempt of court if the other parent continues to violate the court order. 
    • “Contempt of court” is any willful disobedience of a court order. Contempt is punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. You can also request attorney’s fees and other costs with this motion, so cost should not deter you from seeking advice and counsel from an experienced and licensed family attorney.

What Could Happen If a Parent Disobeys a Child Custody Court Order?

Disobeying a court child custody order may result in harsh consequences:

  • Non-violating parents could petition the court for enforcement of the order. The judge may award make-up time for any time with the child that may have been missed.
  • Violating parents may need to appear in court and explain why they violated the order. Both parents may need to appear to discuss why the current order is not working.
  • The court could find the violating parent in contempt of court, which could lead to jail time as well as other consequences, as previously discussed.
  • The violating parent could also lose custody rights previously granted by the court.

As you can see from above, the consequences for disobeying a child custody court order will outweigh any benefits you might think you have. If you feel that a child custody order is unfair, then the best way to change it is to file a petition for modification.

What to Avoid in Child Custody Disputes

Do not take matters into your own hands or try to change what is stated in the court orders on your own. Follow the child custody and visitation orders how they have been set forth. Always take the moral and legal high ground so as to be above reproach and give your case the best possible chance of success.

Never ignore violations of court orders. It is in your best interests, and your child’s, to document violations and report it to your attorney or the court. Good records will back up your claims and prove that you care more about the validity of your claims than simply smearing the other parent.

Do not speak negatively about the other parent, especially in front of your children. The courts prefer that both parents be involved in the lives of their children, and “turning” your child against the other parent will not help your custody dispute.

Should I Get a Family Law Attorney?

You should absolutely get a family law attorney when handling child custody, visitation violations, or other custody/visitation disputes. Family law cases can be complex, especially when they involve children. The children and their wellbeing should come first, and an experienced attorney will help ensure the process is as fair and painless as possible.

They will also be able to help you enforce your child custody or visitation order. Legal protection, advocacy, proper knowledge of the legal process, peace of mind, and closure are all reasons why you should seek a family law attorney when dealing with a violation of a child custody or visitation order.