You have a parenting plan that spells out what overnights the child is going to spend with you and what overnights your child is going to spend with the other parent. The judge reviewed and ratified the plan and made it a court order. There shouldn’t be any problems, right? After all, the judge has spoken by signing the order. It’s as clear as day, and we all know that if you violate an order from a judge you can get into trouble.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s not that simple. Sometimes we have to continuously deal with a parent who refuses to adhere to the custody agreement and violates the judge’s order. This article deals with what we do to enforce a custody agreement. How do we get the other parent to comply with the agreement so that exchanges and timesharing can go off without a hitch?
Goals When Enforcing a Custody Agreement
Before we discuss the specifics of how we actually go about enforcing your custody order, let’s take a moment to make sure we know exactly what our objectives are. For most people, the objectives are:
In most cases, you’re going to have to deal with the other parent for years. If your child is only five years old and the other parent is already violating the custody agreement and making your life difficult, it can be deflating to think that this situation could potentially continue for another 13 years. Imagine trying to maintain a stable home environment for 13 more years knowing that the other parent might break the custody agreement at any time, throwing the home situation into complete disarray.
That’s why for most people the goal is not simply to correct the custody issue immediately or to penalize a past bad act by the other parent but rather to get the other parent to fully comply with the agreement for the foreseeable future and preferably forever. To do that, you have to make the other parent understand that when they violate the rules and the judicial order they will be called upon to face the consequences.
Of course, in cases where the other parent has failed to honor your timesharing and you’ve lost days or weeks of time with your child as a result, you will also want the court to order make-up timesharing for you.
With these goals in mind, let’s go over a typical course of action to enforce a custody agreement and to get compliance from the other parent.
To get the ball rolling, your attorney is going to file a targeted motion with the court. This motion will allege that there is an order in place, that the order spells out rules about how timesharing is supposed to managed, that the other parent is willfully and intentionally violating those rules, and that the situation has caused you to shoulder costs and burdens that you shouldn’t have to if the other parent would simply respect the custody agreement. These motions ask for two things from the judge, one, that the judge enforce the prior agreement and, two, that the judge hold the other party in contempt of court or admonish the other party or order the other party to pay your attorney’s fees or prescribe any other remedy that might get the offending party to be more compliant in the future.
We find in many cases where a party is acting inappropriately by restricting timesharing that the threat of making that party pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees can serve as a strong deterrent to future bad acts. After all, it’s one thing to run around like a goof and rack up attorney’s fees to defend yourself, but it’s another thing when you not only have to pay your own attorney but some or all of the attorney’s fees for the other parent because of your bad actions.
And, of course, these motions often ask for additional timesharing or make-up timesharing.
Enforcing the Agreement: What the Statute Allows You as a Remedy
The statute provides certain remedies when the other parent fails to honor the timesharing schedule without “proper cause.” Following are things that you may ask the judge and that the judge has the authority to order for you at the hearing. These include:
As you can see, the statute gives you the option of going back in front of the judge when the other parent violates your timesharing agreement and asking for remedies that fulfill the goals discussed at the beginning of this article, specifically fixing the situation in the short term so you have timesharing when you’re supposed to and that you know when your child’s going to be with you, making it less difficult to plan your activities. Putting pressure, both financially and emotionally (considering there is a threat of incarceration) on the other parent is a powerful incentive for them to be more reasonable and to act less foolishly and inconveniently toward you. Finally, getting make-up timesharing allows you to retrieve time with your child that was unfairly taken away from you by the other parent.