A child custody agreement is a legally binding order by the family court that details the terms of the relationship that parents have with their children. Child custody agreements are ordered by the court in situations when parents disagree about decisions relating to a child’s upbringing.
A court-ordered child custody agreement determines if sole custody is appropriate, or if joint or shared custody is in the best interests of the child. The agreement may specify visitation arrangements, including the specific days and times when a parent gets to see a child, where the child and parent get to spend time together, and the activities that the parent and child can engage in together.
The custody agreement may also include terms about which parent the child lives with, and which parent is responsible for decisions regarding the child’s education, nutrition, routine care, transportation, healthcare, and religion.
Violating a court-ordered child custody agreement can cause emotional harm to a child, especially in situations where maintaining a routine is essential for their best interests. Some child custody agreement violations are minor, such as picking up a child from school a few minutes late or missing a child’s dentist appointment.
Violations that severely impact the child’s wellbeing and repeated violations may need to be brought to the attention of the family court, a family case manager, or even the police. In these cases, a parent may refuse to return a child after a visit, fail to care for or engage with a child or cause a child to miss school.
There are several options available to you if you feel that the other parent is violating the child custody agreement. You may take action by:
- Contacting the police when you believe the child will not be returned by the other parent, or when you think that the child is in physical danger;
- Notifying your family case manager of the violation, if one is assigned;
- Filing a request that the family court enforce the child custody agreement;
- Requesting that the court amend the terms of the existing custody agreement; or
- Filing a complaint for contempt with the family court.
Filing a complaint for contempt with the family court is typically an option of last resort in situations of continuous and severe child custody agreement violations. In these cases, a parent has likely already requested that the family court enforce the child custody agreement, or change the existing agreement. Also, they may have notified their family case manager of the repeated agreement violations made by the other parent.
By filing a complaint for contempt of court, you are asking that the family court to make an official determination about whether the other parent has violated the court-ordered child custody agreement. If the family court finds that the other parent is in contempt, they will impose punishments on the parent for violating the terms of the custody agreement.
Being held in contempt of court can have serious consequences for the violating parent. If the family court judge finds sufficient evidence that a parent should be held in contempt of court, the judge may order the following punishments:
- Payment of court fines or fines to the other parent;
- Jail time;
- Mandatory parenting classes, mediation, or family counseling sessions;
- Reducing or revoking child custody privileges;
- Giving the other parent more time with the child; and
- Implementing a supervisor to monitor any visitations to ensure that the agreement is followed.
The process for filing a complaint for contempt of court varies by state. In most states, you will begin the process by filing a motion for contempt of court in the same family court that ordered your child custody agreement.
In your complaint, it is important to specifically state the reasons how the other parent has violated the court-ordered child custody agreement. You may include details about the dates, times, and circumstances of the violations and the impact that the violations have on the child. If there are police reports involved, you should submit them to the court when you file the motion.
The court will schedule a hearing to gather evidence from both parents about the circumstances surrounding the violations. The court will then determine if a parent should be held in contempt of court.
In some cases, you may be able to file a complaint for contempt of court on your own. There is a lot of paperwork involved in successfully filing the motion, and dealing with the family court can be emotional and time-consuming.
For the best outcome for your child, you may consider hiring a child visitation attorney. An attorney with experience handling child custody agreement violations will help you understand the best options for you and your child.