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How to Enforce Your Child Custody Order

UPDATED: April 18, 2018

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You have been awarded custody and the other parent has visitation. The details are contained in a court order. What can you do when the other parent violates or disobeys a child custody order? Examples of common child custody order violations include situations where the other parent constantly picks up or returns the child late, or even keeps the child overnight contrary to the court order. Or, the other parent may “bad mouth” you with disparaging comments in the presence of the child, which is very often forbidden by child custody orders.  

Don't Rush in to Court Over Minor Violations of the Child Custody Order

Be aware that courts expect parents to follow custody orders, but at the same time they are not eager to referee disputes or deal with inconsequential alleged violations. Also, keep in mind that courts expect both parents act reasonably. Rushing to court with something minor (and that does not actually harm the child) is not a good idea and can backfire.

Communicate Clearly and Fairly With the Other Parent About the Child Custody Order

Therefore, communicate clearly with the other parent. Tell the parent what you think the problem is and your ideas of how to resolve it. If the other parent’s actions are hurting the child, explain how you feel in detail, but without accusing or berating the other parent. The court expects you to do this. Keep a record to protect yourself, but do not try to “set up” the other parent, that will not do you or your children any good in the long run and the court will likely see through any manipulation by either party. Having certified copies of the court order is essential. For example, if the child has not been returned from a visit and you call the police, they usually will not assist you unless you have a copy of the court order.

Be Prepared to Present Credible Evidence of the Child Custody Order Violation, Not Just Accusations  

If you cannot get the situation resolved and you need to head to court remember that judges are influenced by provable facts, not allegations. The two most valuable assets you have are your credibility and your desire to prevent harm to the child. For example, if you allege that the other parent always brings the child late to school show the judge the attendance records or bring someone from the school to court.

If a parent is violating the order the a judge can change the custody arrangements, and a court may do so where one parent is uncooperative or fails to obey the order. Courts can impose a monetary fine or even on rare occasions imprison a parent if the parent is “held in contempt”, that is, found to have disobey a court order. However, courts, if possible, usually address violations by changing the court order. For example, if the parent always returns the child late from overnight visits then overnight visits may be reduced or eliminated.

What if a custodial parent refuses to make the child available for a visit? In that case a court may change the custody arrangement entirely. But remember, judges will try to avoid punishing children by reducing the time the child spends with the other parent.

Above all, do not put the child in the middle or appear as if you are acting vindictively. Remember that the court is always concerned with the best interests of your children, and if you appear to lack concern for how your request affects the children or or if you request that the court take action because you are angry with the other parent, you are unlikely to get a favorable reaction from the court. Put your child's interests first. Show the court exactly how the violations of the custody order harm your child and how your efforts to work this out with the other parent failed.


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