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Parenting plan and contempt of court

Whenever someone is not following a court order, such as, a parenting plan, an order of child support, a divorce decree, or even a temporary order that person can be found in contempt. There are other types of contempt, but I am addressing the contempt that frequently arises in the family law arena. Contempt of court occurs when a person intentionally disobeys a court order.

If a person fails to pay court ordered child support or spousal maintenance, that person can be found in contempt. Contempt also arises when a parent does not follow the parenting plan. Your parenting plan should establish the days and times for visitation during school, school breaks, summer, holidays and special occasions. Contempt happens when a parent does not follow the residential schedule in the parenting plan, such as, withholding visits or shortening the other’s parent visitation time. The parent may seem to have a plausible reason for the visit not occurring; such as, a child’s baseball game, an out of town relative visiting, the child has a sleep-over or the child does not want to go to the visit. First, absent some type of harm to the child in the other’s parent’s home, the primary residential parent (the parent who has the child for most of the time) needs to ensure the child sees the other parent. The child does not get to decide. Second, no other event should take priority over the other parent’s visit. Grandparents visiting from out of town do not trump dad’s weekend visit…unless dad agrees and receives a “make-up” visit.

The non-primary or noncustodial parent needs to be mindful when the primary or custodial parent lessens or withhold visits. This harms the relationship between the child and other parent because the more infrequent the visits, the less the child will feel attached and bonded to the other parent. This may also create a new visitation “status quo.” Where instead of having your child every other weekend, you have your child for one weekend a month because that is what your visitation has been for the past year.

The primary parent cannot suspend visits either if the other parent fails to pay child support, daycare or extracurricular activities for the child. If you are not seeing your child as often as you should per your parenting plan, do not wait for the custodial parent to change his or her mind and hope things will get better. Contact an experienced family law/divorce attorney to discuss your remedies and to enforce your rights.