What do I do if the other parent interferes with my custody?

You’ve made it through your custody battle and finally have an order from the court. This should mean the end of conflict with the other parent, right? For many parents, unfortunately, the answer is no. Interference with the other party’s custodial rights frequently occurs and can perpetuate the fight far beyond the courtroom.

What is custodial interference?

Custodial interference can occur in a number of different ways. Sometimes it involves improperly affecting the parental relationship, such as denigrating the other parent in the child’s presence.  Other times it involves direct physical interference with the other party’s custodial or visitation rights. This includes, for example, refusing to return the child after a weekend visit. In less extreme situations, the other parent will return the child but is consistently late in doing so. Still other cases concern communications between parents and their children; for example, a father may try to call his son when he is with the mother, but the mother refuses to let the child answer the phone. Anything that takes away from one parent’s time or relationship with his or her child may be considered interference.

Parents who believe they did not get a fair deal in court may have the option of requesting a custody modification at a later point. What they cannot do is violate a court order simply because they do not agree with it. This happens frequently, however, and many judges will consider such behavior to be an act of contempt.

If your rights are being violated, you should consult a child custody attorney right away.  There may be options for handling the situation before escalating it to court. Your attorney will likely communicate with the opposing party, or his lawyer, and try to resolve the situation privately.  Often it’s enough to have your lawyer send a strongly worded letter that warns of the potential consequences of continued interference.

When warnings and letters are not enough, the next step is to ask the court to hold the other parent in contempt. Depending on the factual circumstances in your case, you may be able to request either civil or criminal contempt. Civil contempt usually involves fines or the threat of imprisonment in order to compel compliance. On the other hand, criminal contempt is typically used to punish a parent for past interference. In addition to asking the court to award your attorney fees, you may be able to gain additional time to make up for lost custody or visitation.  Your family law attorney can explain the difference between civil and criminal contempt, and which one might apply to your situation.

The Takeaway

The key to addressing custodial interference is to not wait. The sooner your attorney acts to remedy the situation, the sooner the other parent will know how seriously you take your parental rights. Also, allowing the interference to go unchecked could damage your relationship with your child. Speak to a family law attorney at your earliest convenience to address issues before they become major problems.