If there are children involved when divorcing your spouse or partner, there will likely be a court-approved agreement about child custody and visitation. This agreement spells out the specific details regarding when and how often each of you sees your kids. But despite this mandate from the court, your ex may not honor it, leaving you frustrated and unsure of how to enforce it.
Understanding Child Custody and Visitation Agreements
There are many reasons your ex might violate the terms of your custody agreement. He may do this because he’s angry about the time lost with his child; or the violation might be an oversight. It’s important that you assess each violation on an individual basis to determine if there is a pattern to the breach before you bring it to the attention of the court. For example, a violation could occur because your ex:
- Fails to pick up the child at the appointed time
- Fails to return the child at the appointed time
- Shows up to visit at a non-appointed time
- Sends someone else to get the child if this is a violation of the agreement
While these might constitute a violation, if your ex is occasionally fifteen minutes late to pick up or return the child due to traffic or other issues, it’s not likely that he’s intentionally violating the agreement. Only if you believe that your ex routinely and purposely violates the agreed-upon schedule should you bring the issue to the court.
Penalties for Violating a Custody or Visitation Agreement
A parent who violates a custody or visitation agreement in Virginia may face a variety of civil and criminal penalties.
If one parent chooses to enforce the agreement in court, the parent who violates the agreement risks modification to that agreement. If the court believes the violation has hurt the child or is not in his best interests, the custody agreement could be changed.
Depending on the specific circumstances of the situation, the parent may also face criminal penalties. Virginia Code § 18.2-49.1 makes it a Class 6 felony for any person to knowingly, wrongfully, and intentionally withhold a child from a parent or legal guardian in a clear and significant violation of a custody and visitation court order. For a Class 6 felony to be imposed, the child must be withheld outside of Virginia.
If the child is still in Virginia, and the parent knowingly, wrongfully, and intentionally engages in conduct that is in clear and significant violation of the custody order, that parent may be guilty of a misdemeanor.
A violation of the statute may result in a fine, prison time, or both, depending on whether the violation is a Class 1, 2, or 3 misdemeanor or a Class 6 felony.
How to Enforce a Court Agreement
If your ex has been violating the court-ordered custody agreement, your first step is to talk to your ex. You may be able to agree on a way to make up the lost time without getting the court involved, and you may be able to talk through the difficulty your ex is having meeting the agreement. However, if this doesn’t work, you should not attempt to enforce the policy on your own. You cannot, for example, stop paying child support or violate the agreement by keeping your child for additional time without the consent of the other parent.
Talk To a Family Law Attorney Today
Instead, you should contact a family law attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer may reach out to your ex’s lawyer to try to work things out. If an agreement can’t be reached this way, your lawyer may file a motion with the court to require the violating parent to comply with the legal agreements.
We are here to help you maintain the relationship you want with your child through an enforced court-ordered custody and visitation agreement. If you need help, please contact Quest Law PLLC to learn more about protecting your legal rights.