Once you’ve gone through the hassle of finalizing your divorce and hashing out a detailed parenting plan with your ex, you’d hope that things would be smooth (or at least smoother) sailing going forward. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes things are bitter between exes and one refuses to follow the custody arrangements that have been laid out. This situation can be overwhelming, not to mention frustrating, but there are a few things you can do to help keep your custody arrangements, and your ex’s behavior, on track.
Failure to follow custody orders can look like:
- constantly picking up or dropping off your child later than agreed,
- keeping the child overnight despite a court order that states they cannot,
- bad-mouthing you in front of your child,
- taking advantage of any vagueness in the child custody order to gain more time with the child, or
- scheduling fun activities with the child during times when the child is supposed to be with you.
If your ex is doing any of the above or breaking the child custody orders in any way, here are some things you can do:
- Have your attorney send a letter to your ex. A forceful letter from an attorney can be a strong first step in convincing your ex that they need to follow the child custody order or be prepared to face legal consequences. Sometimes, this is all it takes to bring your ex back in line.
- If a letter doesn’t work, you can request mediation services. Start by contacting the court where your child custody orders were issued and see if they have a Family Services or Family Relations Office that offers mediation services. Mediation can help you and your ex resolve the issue without needing to go to court.
- If you do end up needing to go to court, you can ask the judge who issued the child custody order to make some changes to it. If your ex continuously breaks the court order, you can request changes in visitation lengths and times, for example.
- Another option is filing a motion for contempt of court. In this case, your ex will be required to show up in court and explain why they violated the custody orders. If they are found to have violated the court order, they may have to face fines, sanctions, or even brief imprisonment. You can also ask that they cover your attorney’s fees as a penalty for not following the child custody order.
- As a last resort, you can always consider calling the police if your ex refuses to follow the custody orders and you’re in a situation where you want to take your child with you. If you do call the police, make sure you have a certified copy of the custody order with you when you do.
- In general, regardless of what you choose to do about your ex violating the child custody orders, it’s a good idea to document everything from your ex’s actions to how you responded to them. You can track dates and times in a calendar or a journal. You should include attendance records from your child’s school in your notes as well. If you do end up needing to take legal action, it’s best to have as much information available as possible.
In these situations, it can also be helpful to bear in mind what you should NOT do. Actions you should avoid include:
- Retaliating by violating the child custody agreement yourself. Taking vindictive actions like withholding child support; this might make you feel better temporarily, but will cast you in a negative light in the eyes of the court.
- Bad-mouthing your ex in front of your child. This can only make things more difficult between you and your ex and can indicate to the court that you are trying to keep your ex from being involved in your child’s life.
- Packing up and moving away. Your child needs a support network and a familiar routine to thrive; moving away isn’t the answer.
- Going to court over minor violations of the custody agreement. Of course, both parents are expected to follow the terms of the child custody agreement, but courts don’t appreciate having to deal with very small violations of the agreement and would prefer if these issues were handled between the parents themselves. If your ex is persistently or majorly breaking the terms of the arrangement, the court can be a good option. But, going to court over small issues can backfire on you in the long run.
In short, it’s a good idea to try and settle issues with the custody arrangements between yourself and your ex whenever possible, but don’t hesitate to fall back on the courts or the police if you feel you need help. And, always bear in mind that experienced attorneys are ready and willing to help.