Enforcement of Child Custody Orders: Contempt of Court

When parents engage in parental alienation and/or custodial interference, it can be very destructive to not only the targeted parent, but the children involved as well.

Enforcement of parenting agreements and orders helps parents (in particular – non-custodial parents) who are denied access to the children by the high-conflict parent, get their parenting time restored. Sadly, custodial interference is another method of parental alienation and is usually accompanied by “justification” to the children via bad-mouthing the targeted parent.

Enforcement of these order most often involves the family court system. It’s treated primarily as a civil matter and that’s the venue where the matter is likely going to be heard and addressed. However, if the custodial interference is more serious and is a parental kidnapping, criminal authorities, up to and including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will eventually become involved.

Once a parenting plan is developed and approved by the court (or the court issues a custody order), all parties are bound to its provisions. Violations of the order/agreement are punishable in a variety of ways and are generally heard through contempt-of-court proceedings. If the violation is serious enough – criminal proceedings involving serious federal kidnapping charges may be pursued.

A question that invariably comes up involves child support. We’ve often heard or have seen parents want to tie the two together. “Can I withholding visitation or parenting time if my ex hasn’t paid their child support?” The answer is a resounding NO! The family legal system maintains a separation of visitation and child support issues. Therefore, even if the non custodial parent (NCP) or child support obligor fails to pay child support, parental rights cannot be denied. On the flip side of the equation (and some would say “unfortunately”), even if parental rights are denied a child support obligor cannot legally withhold child support payments. The law exists to “protect” both custodial parents who have not received child support payments and non custodial parents who are denied their parental rights.  Unfortunately, the children are the ones who suffer no matter what negative actions either parent may illegally take in situations like these.

Enforcement of parenting plans is generally done at the state level, though there are federal programs designed to facilitate state-level child visitation enforcement. The 1996 Federal Welfare Reform Act created the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) to supposedly help states conduct child visitation enforcement efforts in addition to child support enforcement actions:

The FPLS is an assembly of systems operated by OCSE, to assist States in locating noncustodial parents, putative fathers, and custodial parties for the establishment of paternity and child support obligations, as well as the enforcement and modification of orders for child support, custody and visitation.

However, the reality of the situation is that FPLS is far more often, if not always, used to locate a non-custodial parent so that child support orders can be enforced and money collected.  Still, as long as there  are domestic violence or child abuse issues involved, this law is supposed to also allow the government to provide information to the non-custodial parent about the child’s whereabouts.

Despite all that you have read here, the sad reality is that enforcement of child custody orders pales in comparison to enforcement of child support orders.  It’s common knowledge that when child custody orders are in place and followed, child support payments and compliance remains high.  When custody orders are not followed, NCPs often do what they believe will have the maximum impact – withhold child support.  Unfortunately, the punishments for custodial interference is not nearly as punitive as those for failure to pay child support.  In our minds, this makes no sense given all of the available data that demonstrates high custody order compliance means high child support order compliance.

Until the financial incentives to the states for child support enforcement are eliminated or are shifted instead to custody order enforcement, we’re unlikely to see meaningful changes on these issues in the near term.

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  1. This is unfortunately the truth. Although child support has not been an issue, there has been sufficient & excessive custodial interference,horrible acts of parental alienation, along with negative coaching of the children ( thus if they do not agree with Mother’s negative view of their father they are punished to keep them “in check” with her warped way of maneuvering). Although she is in a position of being watched by the courts and did not fare well on her psych eval, she has not received ANY consequences for the emotional damage she has done to the children, nor has she been given any reprimands for multiple counts of contempt of court while in court and via the parenting plan. I wish the courts would pay as much attention to the children’s emotional and psychological well being when there is a high conflict ( and mentally unstable) parent involved as they do the financial side of things. It is sad, and these laws should most definitely be changed. My husband’s ex has caused so much unjust emotional trauma for everyone in our family– I could write a book about it– it can be very frustrating to watch her and others like her virtually get away with it at the children’s expense. It’s not right and in my opinion the emotional damage that she has done is equal to that of physical abuse. Hopefully one day the courts will get it right.

  2. […] the article Enforcement of Custody Orders, we spoke briefly of how there are Federal Laws that are supposed to be used to enforce both child […]

  3. […] Contempt of Court – much like it sounds, when a party willfully fails to follow the terms of the court’s order, they are showing “contempt” for the order and therefore the contempt for the court.  They are in contempt of court.  This is the name given the petition/proceedings to address a party’s failure to abide with the court’s lawful order. […]

  4. […] Enforcement of Child Custody Orders – Contempt of Court […]

  5. I just don’t understand how PAS is tolerated because it is a form of mental abuse to the children which causes irreperable damage to the children. We have for the past 3 years been documenting my husbands baby mama’s constant interference with visitation and outright lack of cooperation not to mention the hostility generated from it with the kids and we are ready to call an end to it in court. It’s just out of control but it has taken my husband 3 horrible years to get his head out of his butt and say enough is enough! In that time she has managed to alienate the children whenever things don’t go her way which of course is causing the kids to feel torn between their loyalty to her and their love for their father and myself. I refuse to put them in that position so I refrain from commenting other than to say well why do you think that is when the kids ask me why mom calls you names. They honestly don’t know because it makes no sense to them either. I usually say after they finish what they have to say well I don’t do that kind of thing because it just hurts you guys and you are too important to me to put you in the middle of an adult situation just be kids and know I love you no matter what. Sooner or later it will backfire on her and I know that the resentment they will someday feel will be toward her not me or my husband because we do our best to make their world a safe and comforting place to be. She has refused meetings to iron out the hot button issues and tries to rule my home from afar by telling us what to do with girls on our time via the girls commentary. I think there should be a reduction of child support to combat this issue for all non custodial parents and we are pursuing that venue when we take her to court and fighting for 50/50 placement due to contempt of a court order for visitation.

  6. I have strugggled as a father dealing with my ex-wife for 4 horrifying years. My ex has used our children as pawns. She had ran away with them approximately 95 mi away for one year before ever finding my children. I have lost my home and everything in order to finding my children. Upon bringing her back in court, the court order me to have more visitation time which went real well for about one year. She has now done it again 2x since then and I have lost a total of 2 years of my daughter’s lives. I am still fighting this issue but don’t have the financial means to bring her back in court. I pray each day for our daughter’s lives and their wellfare until retaining full custody for mental abuse. I have filed complaints with their local sherriff’s dept and also CPS and have very limited luck. It is not fair to us fathers’ for the abuse that we have to lay aside until hopefully one day it can be resolved. I pray to our justice system that soon the laws will be more punishable to the defendant and hopefully my daughter’s will not be scarred for life. I wish all of the father’s and mother’s who face such a treacherous torment to those of us who suffer such a mental impact while waiting on a resolution. My heart goes out to each parent who faces such a dilemma. If anyone that reads this can be of any assistance to me, please feel free to write to me and maybe we can petition across state wide to have this changed for the benefit of our dear children.

  7. I am struggling with my ex-husband at this time with several issues regarding our divorce & custody orders. We were legally divorced & the custody order filed in Nevada in the spring of 2008. After staying in NV for apx 8 months after the final divorce, I moved to New Mexico with our 3 children. I did not put anything in writing but discussed this with my ex-husband and all were in agreement. The children lived with me & attended school(s) in New Mexico & Texas, in a safe & successful home from November 2008 until March 2011. My ex-husband did not pay the ordered $1200.00 a month for child support. He did pay $400.00 a month when he deemed it appropriate. If he had them for summer visitation etc, he did not pay and there were other months that he did not pay as well. He tried to tell me he did not make the same kind of money he made while we were married and that we had bills from our joint business that he needed to pay off first. I tried to work with him & keep a good relationship with both parents & the children. In March 2011 the children asked that they try living with their father for a trial period. Due to personal dealings in my own life I told them we (all of us) would try moving back to NV for one month. This was a difficult transition as their father had agreed to help find us housing and me a job. The job came through but the housing he had promised never came to be. He had plans of putting our family back together. After 6 weeks and numerous confrontations with their father I left and went back to NM with the agreement they could finish out that school year. It was supposed to be discussed that the children, part or all, would decide where they wanted to live for 2011-2012 school year. The father took it upon himself to judge me tell the children and myself that they would never live with me again. I again agreed they could stay for one more school year and he’s now telling us they can not come back to NM again for the next year. I have to stop this cycle. I need to know where to start. There’s the past child support issue & now the fact that he’s trying to make his own parenting plan or custody orders. I can no longer think I can keep this out of some sort of legal proceedings. Our oldest daughter will be 15 in April, can she choose? I’m ok with her making a choice. Our 2 boys are 11 & 8yrs. I feel they need to be with me as originally decreed due o their age & their father’s lack of structural parenting. All 3 children are having different behavior & or attitude problems and their school grades are slipping. Please help me know where to start. Thanks, Terri

  8. dcs took my children in october and lied to me telling me if i had done certain things i would get them back…. I have complied with everything they have asked of me and dcs has closed my case giving custody to my oldiest daughters father and step mother of both my girls. They have been in violation of court orders since day one not letting me have my court ordered phone calls,visitation and also step mother and father have been physically assualting my children. they seem to have dcs in the state of tennesssee bambuzzled and then abandondened them for a period of 3 days with no clothes and my oldest daughters medication… I have very good children and they nor does any child deserve what they have had to endure. Espessially from the oldiest daughters father being told they are not welcome in the home because of the step mother.. signed desperate for my children and don’t know what to do!

  9. My ex husband is doing what Michael Ross’ ex wife did to him. He has moved out of state without notifying me or the court. He has turned off my daughters phone that I pay for. He won’t tell me where they are. Haven’t seen her in 2 years or spoke to her in 3 months. I’m scared he will turn in around with his manipulative ways and make it seem like I abandoned her. I’m scared to file for contempT because he is such a out right liar and manipulator and I’m scared the judge will believe him again. Just like the false allegations of neglect and abuse he made when we began our divorce. ALl to make me look bad and it worked.

  10. My ex and I have a schedule for visitation through court. It is for ev other Holiday, 4 weeks in summer, etc. We live in separate states. However, he agreed verbally with me he would only have her for 2 of the 4 weeks on the schedule during the summer. He has become extremely emotionally abusive towards her to the point she is crying and hyperventilating on the phone to come home to me. I have been told the police would just do a routine visit if I asked, and leave if there are no bruises. It is EMOTIONAL abuse we are talking about here. He says she is staying the 4 weeks or I will be in direct violation of the court ordered visitation. I need to get her away from him til I can afford a lawyer and get it reduced.. in the meantime. Would I be in violation if I go to town, have police meet me, and have her removed from his home? I really am desperate.

  11. Lisa – given that there is a court order in place for visitation, I have little hope that there is anything that you can do until a court order changes that 4 weeks of parenting time with dad. You may very well be stuck with the situation as it currently is. I don’t see the police taking the child from him and giving her to you, even under the circumstances you describe.

  12. Ok my fiance and I are having problems with bother of his baby’s mothers and I really need some advice. In the case of his son they have a court ordered custoday agreement and schedule which they havent been following. He moved out of the area and his work schedule makes it hard for us to get there to see him as often as we would like. But when we are able to make it up there she doesnt want to let him see his child. We used to make the ten hr trip there and back every weekend to see his son but after a couple months it was too much and he began working full time. We are also a young couple just getting out on our own and for a few months there neither of us could not take off work as we had both started new jobs. Well once we stopped being able to show up every weekend she would tell his son that he did not want to see him and is pushing to replace my fiance with her boyfriend. In this case what are our options? Now in the case of his daughter it is even worse. He and the mother had no legal custody agreement. But she took off about a year ago and left no phone number and no forwarding address for him to contact her. We have recently discovered that she has been bouncing around from place to place with no stable home or stable source of income. We feel that as we rent a house and he has a stable varifiable income that he is much better suited to take care of his daughter. Was wonderin what kind of chance we would stand for full custody and how we could bring action against her since we have no contact information for her. Even if he is not granted full custody he needs some sort of arrangment because he hasnt been allowed to see his daughter in over a year. Please help!

  13. my ex and i have joint custody we have a legal agreement that states we each have “reasonable phone access” how ever he has blocked my phone and all of my family from calling and will not allow me to speak to them when they are with him we are in N.C. is this a form of kidnapping?

  14. My Ex had been keeping my three boys from me for almost two 1/2 years. I finally got the money to take her back to court. So the court told her if she did it again she would be held in contempt. They ordered my visitations to go on a sliding scale. For the first 6 visits it was for 4 hours on every other sunday. Then Sat to Sun for six visits. Then Yesterday it was suppose to start friday to sunday. Needless to say I went to pick them up and she never showed. Gave the benifit of the doubt and went today hoping maybe she forgot and NOPE! Never showed. So, now My lawyer, Parent facilitator, and her lawyer are trying to get ahold of her with no luck. I feel like my kids are being ripped away from me AGAIN! I can’t afford to goto court every 6 months. I just don’t know what to do. Hopefully the court will put her in contempt like he said he would. I guess we will see

  15. Does anyone know of any agency or organization that can assist a non-custodial parent in finding and abducted and missing child that was taken by the boyfriend of the custodial parent and has been hiding the child in different states and locations for the past four years?

    Regardless of court orders and judgments demanding the custodial parent to allow visitation, I have not seen my poor autistic and mute child since he was abducted by the boyfriend of the custodial parent in January 2009/

    To make matter worse, this boyfriend boast online, to judges and law enforcement as well as toward me about how he is severely bi-polar and refused to take the required medication, how he had sex with the child in the bed and how he is proud that my child does not even know that I am his father and calls this self-confessed pedophile “Daddy”.

  16. I am amazed at how many people that leave comments on this blog are still more worried about money, example: child support payments, over the welfare of the children. Are people really so callous that they think money and abuse of parental authority as the custodial parent is more important than their own children’s lives?

    How can any man or woman sleep at night and not live in fear of being struck by lightning when they are responsible for not only destroying a family, but destroying their own children’s lives because of their selfish greed? I strongly feel that too many people allow the courts to destroy family values, tear apart families and destroy the lives of children because they don’t want to get involved in someone else’s problems and it does not directly affect their lives.

    Remember some day in the future when all of your rights are taken away and other people determine your fate, you were the one who was too lazy to get involved in issues like child custody battles, custodial interference, parental alienation, and the fact that all of this is considered abuse to the poor children that have to live with your bad decisions or you selfish greed to seek vengeance on the very people that you used to love.

    I do not believe in God, because if God were actually real, none of this would be happening. How do I know that God is only a figment of our imagination to help us cope with such a cruel life in this world? THE CYCLE OF LIFE.

    My mother decided to have an affair with a man, when I was 3 years old. She disappeared for around 6 months and reappeared with her new boyfriend and took me away from my father and family. (Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Nieces, Nephews, etc…)

    She and her boyfriend drove all night to another state to hide me from my real father and when my father did find me and beg her for visitation, she filed a restraining order against him and had him arrested for trying to be a good father to his missing child.

    She was awarded child support and used it to buy her new dresses for her new career. I even remember always having to wait at the dentist or doctor’s office for her, yet we never brought me to the dentist or doctor for me.

    I also remember going to the courthouse and having my last name changed after she married her boyfriend. I did not realize that I was being illegally adopted and that my own mother had forged my real fathers signature.

    When I grew up and was around 20, I found my real father and met him for the first time in my life since I was 3. He and my grandparents told me the truth about what my mother did to my life and the lives of our entire family. To this day, I refuse to speak to her and told her to drop dead. My father passed away last year and I really never got to know him that well because my mother took me away just to get her revenge on him, even though she is the one who had the affair and tore our family apart.

    Where were the courts, judges, child protective services when I needed them as a child? They never really protected me, but they went out of their way to protect the very person that is responsible for destroying my life.

    Four years ago, this very same scenario happened to me and my son. My wife divorced me and was having an affair with a married man. I did not know at the time about it, but she kept accusing me of being the one that was having an affair and divorced me, taking our child with her.

    Her boyfriend decided to take her and my son with him and hide the child from me. He even went so far as to threaten my life if I attempted to find my son and see him. They abused the family court system to the limits and when they started to lose their battle in court, they fled to another state and abused the family court system.

    I would not mind if my ex-wife had a new boyfriend, even if I knew he would take good care of our autistic and mute 3 1/2 year old. What bothered me most is his death threats toward me for just wanting to see my own son, his boasting about having sex with my little son, his bragging about how he is driving what used to be my BMW and his bragging how my son does not even know that I exist and calls this man “Daddy” now.

    It never ceases to amaze me how the family court system will not help this child, but will go out of their way to help the very person that was suppose to protect this child, his mother, and her self-confessed pedophile boyfriend.

  17. My frustration is that my ex can spend what is labeled as “child support” on herself and her live-in-boyfriend without any accountability, and that her repeated interference with custody gets her a slap on the wrist in the form of a verbal chastisement by Her Honor while I am threatened with jail if I don’t pay child support based on 40 hrs per week when I’ve been cut back to 32.5 hrs per week because of the economy.

    Don’t tell me to petition the courts for an adjustment – I tried – Her Honor refused to reduce my child support because “your children deserve that money”.

    I have since learned that the Child Support Performance and Incentive Act rewards states based on the gross amount of child support collected, which means that the states have a financial incentive to order the maximum child support award possible, to limit visitation in order to increase child support awards.

    Child support should be about the parents sharing the responsibility for providing for their children’s needs and not about enriching the state, but that makes too much sense.

    It may also be a violation of the terms of service, but I am posting this under a fictitious name because Her Honor has already threatened me with contempt of court for sending a formal complaint to her supervisor regarding her judicial prejudice against men.

  18. I am the mother of two daughters (ages 12 and 10). I lost custody of them in 2004 to CPs. Their fathers mom got custody from cps in December 2005. I have a court order for every Sunday from 4-6pm at her house supervised. Well last year in March we went to court for her only letting me see them 3 times in a year. Well the courts didn’t do anything but told her to pick a day a week that would suit her and give me two hours. Well that went ok until
    September and the visits have stopped again. Now when I call to talk to them they don’t answer or they answer and I ask to talk to their grandma and she is always unavailable but I hear here in the back ground telling them what to say. Well my oldest has been very hateful and mean telling me I’m the ron they were taken away and that their dad never did anything to me. But the main reason they were taken was because they thought I would never leave him because beat me everyday infringe of my kids. Plus he was an alcoholic. Please someone give me some advise on what to do. Is this parent alienation with my oldest being hateful and telling me she don’t want to see me. Thank u so much for any kind of advice.

  19. Does anyone living in Utah have stories they would like to share about custodial interference? Have you had local law enforcement agencies refuse to enforce the law? My friend has had horrible experiences with multiple law enforcement agencies. KSL will be doing an investigative report next week and would like to hear as many stories as they can to see how widespread this issue truly is.

  20. I have 3 children .Dad was missing the day. He suppost to get them .He suppost to come for 2 cause they are his. But he was coming fon only one . In one point he came late i say ok. But he keep missing the days when he suppost to come.He was coming for 1 KID not 2 it wrong for me tha the way i see it. Now he take me for Contempt i have prove the he miss the day . But he lying the i am not giving him the kids an is not true he is the one missing the days. Now cause i had the Court Contempt he said i will be in jail .How you can help me or it will be a problem cause i didnt give the one kid to him. Cause he have 2 and only want 1 .How i can get help