What Happens If a Parent Does Not Follow a Custody Agreement?
Spouses That Violate a Child Custody Agreement: What Can I do?
What Is Child Custody?
When the parents of a child aren’t together, there usually needs to be some type of child custody arrangement between the two. Custody is split into two parts- parenting time and legal decision-making. Parenting time, as the name suggests, is the time each parent spends with the child, and is sometimes referred to as “physical custody.” Legal decision-making is a parent’s authority to make decisions about the child’s education, medical treatments, religious upbringing, etc., and is also referred to as “legal custody.” The parents may be awarded joint custody, or one parent may receive sold custody.
When custody matters proceed to court, judges have certain preferences which can vary by state. In Arizona, judges generally prefer for the parents to have as close to equal custody rights as possible. This means joint legal decision-making, as well as 50/50 (or close to it) parenting time. However, this isn’t always feasible. When one parent is deployed or needs to move far away, it may be better for the parents to share joint legal decision-making, with one parent having most of the parenting time, and summer vacation and other long breaks with the parent who relocated. One or both parents could have a strained relationship with the child, or have physical or mental limitations that make it difficult to care for a child. Temporary- but official- orders may be necessary in permeable situations. If you are anticipating a custody matter in the near future, it’s important to discuss your case with a Mesa family law attorney.
What Is a Child Custody Agreement?
Many parents assume they will need to go before a judge, who will then decide child custody of their child. However, the parents retain more control over the situation if they come to an agreement outside of court. Whether through extensive negotiations, or through mediation, parents can come to a legally binding agreement without a judge deciding on custody matters. This can potentially save time and money for both parents, and be less stressful on everyone involved- especially the child.
How Can I Make My Spouse Abide By The Child Custody Agreement?
Unfortunately, parents don’t always abide by the terms of their custody agreements. When this happens, you may need to pursue enforcement of your custody agreement. There are several steps you can take to enforce your child custody agreement. You may want to start by having your Arizona family law attorney contact the other parent’s attorney. A strongly worded letter or email may be sufficient to get the other parent to comply with the custody agreement. You should document agreement violations, and call the police for more serious infractions.
If this isn’t enough to get the other parent to comply with the custody agreement, you may want to go to court to have the judge enforce your agreement. The judge may penalize the other parent with fines, and even find the other parent in contempt of court. If the other parent is found in contempt, they could be ordered to pay fines, as well as your legal fees, and even be sentenced to jail time.
If the violations are severe or continual, a modification may also be necessary. For the most part, custody orders must be in place for at least 12 months before they can be modified. However, the judge will hear a modification hearing at any time if the child is in danger. If the child’s other parent continually violates the custody agreement, the judge may modify the orders to reflect that parent’s inability to follow orders. The non-violating parent may also be awarded extra parenting time to make up for lost time due to the other parent’s violations.
Can I Deny The Other Parent’s Parenting Time?
Despite what you may have heard, it is generally unacceptable to withhold visitation or parenting time from your child’s other parent. Even if the other parent has violated the child custody agreement in the past, you could still face consequences for your failure to abide by the agreement. This also applies if the other parent fails to pay child support. However, if the child is in immediate danger of sexual abuse, physical harm, etc., the parent should petition the judge for an emergency hearing to modify custody to keep the abusive parent away from the child. The police should be called before visitation is withheld for official documentation of the situation.
Other Child Custody Agreement Tips
- If you can’t come to an agreement before going to court, you may want to at least consider mediation. Don’t be turned off by the hefty price tag- resolving your issues in one or a few days will save you far more in the long run. Mediation is not appropriate when the relationship between the parties was abusive.
- For a non-emergency custody modification, there must have been a “substantial and continuing” change in circumstances. This change in circumstances must have materially affected the child’s best interests. Judges are highly reluctant to overturn their own orders, so you should seek the advice of a Glendale family law attorney before petitioning the court for a modification.
- Avoid speaking negatively about the child’s other parent in front of the child or on social media. This can cause your child distress, resentment, and other negative psychological effects that can be avoided with your own self-restraint. It is also called “parental alienation,” and can be used against you in future custody proceedings. Screenshots of online posts can make it even easier for the other parent to prove parental alienation in court.
- Don’t cause a scene, even when the other parent is late. Just like speaking negatively about your child’s other parent in front of them, having an explosive argument over being late to pick-ups and drop-offs can be similarly damaging.
- Instead, document the other parent’s violations. Include exact dates and times, that parent’s actions, and what you did in response. You can keep your attorney apprised of your documentation.
- Foster a strong support system. Moving away from friends and relatives may not be the wisest decision during a custody battle. It can help you to have loved ones nearby who understand your situation. You may find it beneficial to have someone to complain about your ex with, out of your child’s earshot. A therapist or similar mental health professional can help you deal with your emotions regarding the custody situation. Of course, an experienced and professional family law attorney in Arizona can also alleviate the burden of a custody dispute. Your attorney should know exactly how to act to enforce your custody agreement.
Contact Our Arizona Family Attorneys For Assistance
If your child’s other parent is violating your custody agreement, now is the time to act. A skilled and knowledgeable Mesa family law attorney can help you ensure that your custody agreement is enforced. For quality representation at an affordable price, contact our firm for your free consultation. AZ Family Law Lawyers has years of experience handling custody disputes, and enforcing custody orders when one parent is in violation. We also offer payment plans that make family law representation more affordable for everyone. For more information, use our online form or call (480) 263-1699 to schedule your free consultation today.