Enforcing a Custody Order

When a judge makes an order about child custody and visitation, it becomes a court order and it has the force of law.

It is very important that you:

  • Keep a copy of your current court order in a safe place. If there are other people involved in your visitation, like if you exchange the children at someone’s house, that person should have a copy too.
  • Have a court order that is clear about the details of your visitation order, including where your children will spend every holiday, birthdays, parents’ birthdays, vacations, etc.
  • Make sure you get a new court order if you and the other parent agree to make significant changes to your time-share or visitation order. Some of the changes that you should write into a new custody and visitation order are changes in: how much time your children will spend with each parent; where both parents will live; where your children will go to school, get medical care, or religious training; who will pick up and drop off the children at the time of the exchanges; or how you will make sure your children’s other needs are met.

 

If one parent does not follow the custody and visitation court order

There are several options:

  • Contact your local police department and ask them to enforce the order.
  • Contact the district attorney in your county. Look for the Child Abduction and Recovery Unit.
  • File an action for “contempt” with the court. In contempt actions, you ask the court to enforce the order and  make a finding that the other parent willfully disobeyed the court order. This is very complicated and can have serious consequences. Talk to a lawyer to get help with it.

In case you have to go back to court, you should keep accurate records of all visitation violations. Keep a journal or mark up a calendar, with the dates and times that the other parent did not follow the order and did not show up, or showed up late, or created other problems.

Enforcing a court order can be very complicated. Talk to a lawyer to find out what is best in your case. Click for help finding a lawyer.


If you are worried the other parent may kidnap your child

The U.S. Department of State has a list of precautions that any parent should take if they are worried about the possibility of child abduction. Here are some precautions from their list:

  • Keep a list of the addresses and telephone numbers of the other parent’s relatives, friends, and business associates both here and abroad;
  • Keep a record of important information about the other parent, including: physical description; passport, social security, bank account, and driver’s license numbers; and vehicle description and plate number;
  • Keep a written description of your children, including hair and eye color, height, weight, fingerprints, and any special physical characteristics; and
  • Take full-face color photographs or videos of your children every 6 months — a recent photo of the other parent may also be useful. If your children are abducted, this information could be vital in locating your them.


In addition, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, at telephone number 1-800-843-5678, suggests that you teach your children to use the telephone, memorize your home phone number, and practice making collect calls, and that you instruct them to call home immediately if anything unusual happens. Discuss possible plans of action with your children in the case of abduction.

Most important, if you feel your children are vulnerable to abduction, talk to a lawyer for legal advice. Do not just tell a friend or relative about your fears.

If one of the parents kidnaps the children and leaves the country

When a child who is a U.S. citizen is kidnapped and taken to another country, the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues works with U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world to help the child and the parent looking for the child. But even when a child is taken across international borders, child custody disputes are private legal matters between the parents, and the State Department has little or no power.

If your child is at risk of being abducted by the other parent, it is very important that you have a clear custody order that specifies what the other parent can and cannot do in terms of traveling with your child. But even if you have a court order, U.S. laws and court orders are not usually recognized in foreign countries and therefore are not directly enforceable abroad.

Fortunately, the Hague Convention, which has been signed by many countries, is an international treaty that applies to child abductions. The countries that are parties to the convention have agreed that, with a few exceptions, a child who is a resident in 1 country that is a party to the convention and who is removed to another country that is also a party to the convention against a custody and visitation order must be promptly returned to the country of residence. See more information on which countries have signed this agreement.

The Hague Convention and cases of international abduction are very complicated. There is information online to help you, but if you can, talk to a lawyer who has a lot of experience with international abduction cases. Your local District Attorney’s Office may also have a Child Abduction and Recovery Unit that can help you or give you resources in your area.

Here are some websites with very helpful and complete information on child abduction:

  • The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues website provides information about international abduction. This site provides information on how to look for a child abroad, how to use the criminal justice system, and how to invoke the Hague Convention by submitting abduction applications, as well as information about the law.

  • A Family Resource Guide on International Parental Kidnapping, from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides detailed information on prevention and searching for your child, checklists for what to do in case of kidnapping, resources, and much more.
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