A visitation order is a court-approved arrangement that allows for child visitation by a parent (usually the non-custodial parent) to visit a child, or to have a child stay with them for a short period of time.

Violation of a visitation order occurs when:

  • One party fails to comply with the terms and provisions set forth in a court-approved child custody/visitation order; or
  • One party fails to conform with a visitation order approved by a court without first seeking to modify the order in court by either filing a petition or following the requirements imposed by the court’s jurisdiction.

Violations of legally-enforceable visitation orders result in serious legal consequences because the child’s safety or well-being may be endangered through such violations. Furthermore, even if no injury occurs to the child as a result of the violation, a court could still impose criminal fines.

Violation of a visitation order may be different than a violation of an informal visitation agreement. Generally, a visitation order is approved by a court and is enforceable under law. Violation of an order may lead to more significant legal penalties and consequences as compared to violations of informal visitation agreements. On the other hand, a mere agreement between the parties may not have the full backing or authority of the court’s approval. This is true especially if the agreement was never written down or presented to a judge.

What are Some Ways to Violate a Visitation Order?

There are many different ways to violate visitation orders. A court may view any action taken that is not directly authorized by a visitation order as a violation, regardless of the size of the deviation.

While regulations may be different from state to state, violations may include:

  • Overstaying a visit with the child
  • Not dropping off or picking up the child at the predetermined place or time
  • Attempting to change the visitation schedule without the court’s authorization
  • Allowing a person to pick up the child without authorization from the court
  • Attempting to visit or contact the child at outside the times listed in the visitation order
  • Denying a parent of his/her visitation rights according to the order

In some cases, changes to the visitation schedule may need to be made for legitimate reasons. To make changes, the party or parties should file to modify the visitation order, rather than attempt to change it without the court’s knowledge or supervision.

What Should a Parent Do If the Other Parent Is Violating the Custody Order?

In the event that one parent is violating the custody order, the non-violating parent can take action against the violating parent. First, the non-violating parent should document the violation(s), which consists of making a record of the actions that do not align with court-ordered visitation.

Using the visitation order and documentation of violating behavior, the non-violating parent has the following options:

  • File a police report
  • Contact a dedicated child abduction unit within many district attorney’s offices
  • File a court motion requesting changes to the existing visitation order
  • File a court motion seeking the issuance of sanctions against the violating parent
  • File for contempt of court

What are the Various Consequences of Violation of Visitation Orders?

The congeniality of parents governed by a visitation order does not negate legal consequences when that order is violated. The order is put in place and enforced by a court. When one parent violates a visitation order with the perceived consent by the other parent, the violation may still result in negative consequences invoked by a court.

The legal consequences of violating a visitation order can include:

  • Contempt of court
  • Criminal consequences including fines and/or jail time (this usually happens as a result of repeated violations related to a visitation order)

Also, repeated violations of visitation orders can also negatively affect the violating party’s current and/or future child custody. A court is likely to exhibit less flexibility when dealing with a parent who has repeatedly violated orders involving child custody, as opposed to a first-time violator.

Thus, parties subject to visitation orders should avoid acting in violation of such orders at all costs.

Could Violating a Custody Order Lead to Complete Loss of Child Custody?

It is possible for a violation, or series of violations, of a visitation order to lead to the violating parent completely losing custody of the child.

As when a court first approves a visitation order, the court could determine that the violations lead to a belief that the child might be in danger due to the visitation. This belief could result in a denial of visitation rights because family courts are required to make decisions based on the child’s best interest.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Violation of a Visitation of Order?

Due to the significant consequences of violation, a parent who has been alerted or notified of a potential violation related to child custody/visitation rights may wish to immediately speak with a child visitation lawyer. This kind of lawyer can direct you on how best to proceed, and can provide you with representation in court during formal hearings.

Visitation orders are enforceable under state laws when issued by a judge. A child visitation lawyer practicing in one state may not be the optimal choice of representation in another state. When deciding among several specialized lawyers in child visitation, it is important to understand which states they have acted as a representative in court.