The court has several ways in which it may enforce a parent’s parenting time, or, alternatively, protect a custodial parent from a parent who fails to take advantage of parenting time. If your child’s custodial parent is not permitting you to see your child pursuant to an agreement or court order, it may be necessary to file an application with the court to enforce your existing parenting time plan. If you have any suspicion that the custodial parent will withhold a child from parenting time, it is important that you contact an attorney right away. We have many cases wherein a custodial parent will withhold a child during a holiday or planned vacation that the other parent may have scheduled. If that happens, there is very little the court can do after the holiday/vacation passes. Therefore, it is important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible so that an emergent application can be made on your behalf in anticipation of the custodial parent withholding the child.
Once an application is made to enforce parenting time and a parent is in fact determined by the court to be in violation of the agreement/order, the court has several measures at its disposal that it may apply individually or in combination to ensure that parenting time occurs according to plan in the future. Among those measures are:
Compensatory time with the children
The most common remedy employed by the court is to provide additional or “make-up” parenting time for the parent who missed scheduled time with a child. As noted above, if a parent withholds a child during a holiday or planned vacation, that time can rarely be made up. Therefore, if you suspect that the parent of your child will withhold your child in such circumstances, it is important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible.
This category is actually geared towards aiding the custodial parent. This remedy gives the court the authority to assess economic sanctions or monetary fines upon a parent who fails to take advantage of their scheduled parenting time, thus forcing the other parent to stay home with the child or make alternate plans (such as getting a babysitter). The economic sanctions are typically proportionate to the expenses resulting from the parent’s failure to appear for parenting time such as child care expenses (e.g., babysitter, loss of non-refundable plane tickets).
Modification of transportation arrangements
Depending upon where the parents of a child live, the transportation arrangements can be a big issue. Normally parents attempt to share equally the driving involved with parenting time and the courts will normally order the same. However, if a parent fails to make a child available, a court can order the parent to do all of the driving related to the other parent’s parenting time. As part of modifying the transportation arrangements of the parents, the court can order that the parents meet at a public space for pick-ups and drop-offs.
If the court determines that it is in the best interests of the child, it may order that the child and/or the parents undergo therapy. The therapy would focus on dealing with issues that stem from either the custodial parent’s refusal to make the child available to the other parent, or because a parent’s failure to attend scheduled parenting time.
Counseling for the children or parents
Temporary or permanent modification of the custodial arrangement
A change of custody is a very drastic measure that the court will sometime use in matters where there has been repeated violations of a court order. If a custodial parent has continuously refused to make a child available for parenting time with the other parent, a court can order that the other parent take custody of the child. However, the court will only take this drastic step if it determines that it is in the best interest of the child and there are no less intrusive measures to make sure that the non-custodial parent can see the child.
It is unusual for a court to compel a violating parent to participate in a community service program. However, if other measures have failed in the past, the court may rely on this remedy as a means to motivate a parent to comply with an agreement/order.
Participation in an approved community service program
Incarceration is a common remedy more commonly used by the court to compel parents to pay child support. While the remedy is not used anywhere near as often to enforce parenting time, the court does have the power to do so.
The warrant may be issued in the form of “bench warrant,” which compels the parent who has the child (whether it be the custodial parent or the non-custodial parent) to appear in court and explain why he/she has not made the child available for parenting time, or, in the case of a non-custodial parent, why he/she has not returned the child. If the violating parent does not appear in court, the court can issue a warrant for that parent’s arrest.
Issuance of a warrant to be executed upon further violation of the order
Any other a ppropriate equitable remedy
This category is a broad “catch-all” that permits the court to fashion whatever remedy it thinks it is appropriate for the situation. Each case that comes before the court has a different fact pattern and this category gives the court the freedom to create a remedy appropriate for each particular case.
On a final note, please note that the court can only enforce parenting time that is part of an agreement or order. If a custodial parent refuses to permit you to see your child, you will first need to file an application to establish a parenting time schedule. Once a parenting time schedule is ordered by the court, you may enforce the order if the custodial parent does not permit you to see the child.
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