Too many divorced parents have to deal with an ex-spouse who consistently violates the child custody order. A non-custodial parent might routinely be late picking up and returning the children for visitations, or a custodial parent might routinely make the children unavailable. How can you get help enforcing a custody order? Do you need an attorney? Can the police help? You’re about to learn those answers and more about your rights and options as a divorced parent.

Violations of a child custody order related to visitations are not the only violations that some parents must deal with. Most custody orders forbid disparaging comments about the other parent in the child’s presence, but it’s a common problem. And if the other parent – whether custodial or non-custodial – simply disappears with the kids for days at a time, you may begin to have genuine concerns about the safety of your children. What can you do? Where can you turn?

In most of these cases, the best first step is simply to try communicating clearly with your ex-spouse. Calmly, point-by-point, explain what you believe to be the problem, why you believe it is a problem, and how you think the problem can be fixed in a way that is fair to everyone. If you believe that your ex-spouse’s behavior is hurting the child or children, try to explain your feelings without accusations or anger.

SHOULD YOU CALL THE POLICE ABOUT A CUSTODY ORDER VIOLATION?

Keep a written journal of your discussions with your spouse regarding the custody order, and be as specific as possible, but also be forthright and candid – any vindictiveness or any attempt by either parent to manipulate the other parent will probably be spotted by the court. Be certain that you have several certified copies of the child custody order. If you have to call the police about a violation of the court order, they will ask to see it.

Court orders – such as arrest warrants, search warrants, and subpoenas – are issued every day by California courts, and a child custody order carries the same legal authority as any other court order – meaning that it can be enforced by the police. Even so, many police departments in California will resist getting involved in a family law dispute unless a crime like kidnapping or abuse has occurred.

Some police departments in our state will be more helpful than others. The police may try talking to your ex, or they may simply tell you to take your problem to the court. If that happens in southern California, obtain the advice and services of an experienced Long Beach family law attorney.

Still, a parent should not be rushing into a courtroom every time there is some minor violation of the child custody order. While the courts in our state expect adherence to custody orders, they also expect sober and rational behavior. Demanding a hearing just because your ex is thirty minutes late with the kids might even backfire against you.

IF YOU GO TO COURT OVER A CUSTODY VIOLATION, WHAT WILL YOU NEED?

Judges want to see facts, not emotions, wild allegations, or trivial allegations. If you are alleging that the other parent regularly causes the kids to be tardy for school, for example, bring a copy of the school’s attendance records or a statement from the school administration. Carrying yourself calmly and having your facts and documents in order will work in your favor.

If one parent is uncooperative or consistently violates the custody order, a judge can modify the order, impose a fine, or even send that parent to jail for contempt of court. Usually, however, a judge will modify the custody order to address the particular violation. For example, if a parent always brings the child back late after overnight visits, overnight visits might be eliminated.

What if you are the non-custodial parent, and the custodial parent routinely will not make the child available for scheduled court-ordered visitations? In such cases, the court may choose to revise the custody order entirely. However, judges will always work to avoid the appearance of punishing a child by reducing the amount of time the child may spend with either parent.

WHAT IS A CALIFORNIA COURT’S TOP PRIORITY?

In fact, in any legal situation that involves a child, a California court’s utmost priority will always be the child’s best interests. What a parent needs to demonstrate to the court is precisely how the other parent’s violations of the custody order are harming the child and how you have attempted to resolve the situation calmly and reasonably. Always show the court that you are putting your child’s interests first.

If you are a non-custodial parent and you want to enjoy more visitation time with your children, take full advantage of the time you already have. Do not miss visits that are already scheduled, and be on your best behavior. That’s the lasting lesson to take from a recent ruling handed down by California’s Third District Court of Appeals.

In that case, a non-custodial mother had missed a number of scheduled visits, and she seemed to behave irrationally when she did show up. The Third District Court upheld a lower court decision and refused to order additional visitations. The judges held that by missing scheduled visits, the mother generated anxiety and distress in the children, so the court refused to give the mother more chances to cause that anxiety and distress.

WHERE CAN A PARENT TURN FOR LEGAL ADVICE AND HELP?

If you do end up calling the police about the violation of a child custody order, cooperate with them – even if they seem reticent to cooperate with you. A call to the police is almost never the end of a custody order violation complaint, and if you go before a judge, any prior lack of cooperation with the police will inevitably work against you.

If you are on either side of a child custody dispute, a child support dispute, or a child visitation dispute, or if you have any concerns or questions regarding child custody or any other matter of family law in southern California, arrange a consultation with an experienced Long Beach family law attorney. Nothing in this world is a higher priority than your children, so you must be represented by a skilled, experienced attorney who will fight aggressively on your behalf.