It is common for couples to disagree about a range of issues during the divorce process, especially in high-conflict divorces where both spouses harbor animosity towards one another. Unfortunately, in situations like this, one spouse may try to prevent the other from seeing the children. This often happens when one spouse refuses to let the other spouse see the children as punishment for some type behavior, like infidelity. However, unless there are legitimate allegations of child abuse, or the children’s safety and well-being is at risk, one spouse cannot prevent the other spouse from seeing or spending time with the children. If your ex-spouse is preventing you from seeing your children, contact an experienced child custody lawyer as soon as possible.
What Legal Rights Do I Have If My Ex Threatens to Take the Kids?
When a couple divorces, part of the divorce process involves coming to an agreement about who has custody of the children and when, and who is responsible for making child support payments. Once these issues are negotiated and agreed upon by both spouses, a custody and visitation agreement will be submitted to the court for approval. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, a judge will determine who should have custody of the children based on what it is in their best interests. Once this document is entered as an order, it is legally binding and enforceable for both parents. That means that you and your spouse both must follow the agreed-upon visitation schedule, and your former spouse may not prevent you from spending your allotted time with your children.
Are There Any Circumstances That Warrant Withholding Visitation?
In most cases, it is in the best interest of the children if they are able to maintain a regular and consistent visitation schedule with both parents. However, there are circumstances where one parent takes steps to withhold visitation from the other parent. The following are examples of common situations where a parent may try to justify preventing the other parent from seeing the children:
- A parent may withhold visitation in an effort to punish the other parent for past actions.
- If a parent is extremely resentful or angry over the circumstances of the divorce, they may try to withhold visitation.
- If one parent withholds visitation, the other parent may take the same action the next time they have custody.
- A parent may withhold visitation if the other parent is consistently late for custody exchanges.
- If the children do not want to visit the other parent, a parent may argue that it is in the best interest of the children to withhold visitation.
- If the parent who is responsible for child support and/or spousal support fails to make support payments, or is consistently late, the other may try to withhold visitation.
- Parents often withhold visitation if they believe that the other parent is unable to care for the children, or does not have any desire to do so.
It is important to understand that none of the above reasons are acceptable from a legal perspective. The only exception is if you believe that your children are going to be in immediate danger when they are in your ex-spouse’s care. For example, if your ex-spouse appears to be visibly intoxicated when they arrive to pick up the children, you have every right to refuse to let your children get in the car with them. In fact, you are urged to call the police if your ex-spouse becomes angry, tries to force your children into the car, or threatens the children in any way in that scenario or one like it.
What If I Suspect My Spouse of Abuse or Neglect?
You may be able to withhold visitation if you suspect that your children have been subjected to abuse or neglect while in the custody of your ex-spouse. However, unless you can prove that your children are in imminent harm, you will have to go through the proper legal channels in order to prevent your ex from seeing the children. Because the majority of abuse and neglect occurs in private, or when no other responsible adult is present, the first thing to do is to collect evidence that supports your concerns. Examples may include official reports or evaluations from doctors or therapists, medical or school records that indicate a change in behavior, as well as expert testimonies. Once you have collected the necessary evidence, you can petition the court to modify the custody order and enter a protective order that will prevent your ex from seeing the children. A child custody lawyer can work closely with you to assist you with this process, file the appropriate documents, and ensure that your legal rights are protected.
What Can I Do If My Ex Does Not Follow the Custody Arrangement?
While every situation is unique, and some couples are able to resolve visitation and custody issues themselves, it is often the case that a child custody lawyer will need to get involved to help resolve the dispute. For example, if your ex refuses to follow the agreed-upon custody arrangement, or refuses to schedule make-up time after a change was made to the parental schedule, a child custody lawyer can recommend the best legal course of action moving forward. Most custody disputes are resolved in the following ways:
- Child custody mediation. A trained mediator will work with both parents to help them resolve their custody disagreements and without having to go to court. There are certain circumstances where mediation may not be the appropriate course of action, including when you or your child is the victim of physical or emotional abuse or neglect, in which case the court will need to get involved.
- Court intervention. If you are the parent that is being denied visitation, you may file a contempt request – also known as an Order to Show Cause. You may also request to modify custody with the court. The judge will review the details of the case and determine whether the custody agreement should be modified, or if any punishments should be imposed if the parent who is withholding visitation is in contempt of court. Depending on the details of the cae, the judge may impose fines or even jail time. In addition, the custody award may be modified so that you have more visitation rights, or sole custody if the circumstances warrant it.
How Can I Avoid Conflict With My Ex?
Conflict is common in most divorces, but couples who are able to work through their issues in a respectful and productive way are more likely to be able to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of both parties involved. While disagreements are inevitable during the divorce process, couple can avoid serious conflict by keeping the following tips in mind:
- Keep the lines of communication open. Even if you have a custody agreement in place, make sure that you and your ex communicate regularly. Keep each other in the loop about any plans that may impact the current parenting schedule. For example, if your ex would like to take the children on a vacation but the dates coincide with your time with the children, try to be flexible and consider allowing a schedule change if it is in the childrens’ best interest. If you are responsible for picking the children up from their after school activities, but you will be working late all week in order to meet a tight deadline, have a conversation with your ex about your schedule and come to an agreement about who will be available to pick up the children.
- Be consistent. Simple things like arriving on time to pick-ups and drop-offs, being reliable and following through on commitments can help prevent common conflicts from escalating during divorce proceedings, and after the divorce agreement has been finalized.
- Figure out how to communicate effectively. If you and your spouse have a difficult time communicating in person, consider other options, including emailing or texting if you can communicate more effectively this way. There are also online services available that help create and organize schedules, and allow you and your ex to leave each other messages about upcoming events that may warrant a schedule change. Keep in mind, however, that online exchanges can be misinterpreted since they lack the subtlety associated with human intonation.
Mendham Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Assist Clients with Custody Issues
If your former spouse is preventing you from seeing your children, or you are dealing with other custody issues, do not hesitate to contact our experienced Mendham child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.