Divorce has lasting implications for parents, for as long as their children are minors. Divorced parents in California have to follow the laws and guidelines decided in the best interests of the child either during the parent’s negotiations and divorce agreement or through a judge’s decree in a custody order.
A custody order in California outlines the physical and legal custody arrangement for a family after a divorce, or for parents who were never married and live apart but share a child together. A judge does not sign off on a custody order unless every aspect of the order is in the best interests of the child. So what happens when one parent routinely refuses to follow the custody order? What recourse does a parent have for enforcing a custody order in California?
Avoid the Issue With a Clear, Precise Order
One of the best ways to address problems with a child custody order in California is to avoid problems preemptively by making sure your custody agreement spells out your parenting arrangements very clearly and in great detail. Not only does this avoid later misunderstandings, but it also makes an agreement easier to enforce.
An experienced family law attorney can help ensure that the details of your custody arrangement are written in a clear, concise manner so police are easily able to understand the terms if they need to act on enforcement. By having the order spelled out in detailed specifics there’s less chance of a parent misinterpreting the terms or attempting to pass off non-compliance as misinterpretation. Details should include the following:
- How parents divide time during the week
- How parenting time is divided on weekends
- Parenting schedule for holidays and school vacations
- How the transportation details work in the custody order, including transport to and from school and from one parent’s home to the other
Always leave custody papers in a safe, secure location and give a copy to anyone else who may require access to details, such as daycare and school employees who oversee parent pick-up times.
Enforcing a Custody Order in California
At times, co-parents may agree between themselves to adjust their standing child custody arrangement around a scheduling conflict. There may also be occasions when a true misunderstanding or unforeseen circumstance causes a parent to deviate from the order. In most cases, co-parents can tolerate and easily accommodate these minor digressions from the custody orders. But if a parent consistently violates the order in either minor or significant ways or makes a major digression without the other parent’s agreement, enforcement efforts may be required. How you respond to a violation of a standing custody order depends on the seriousness or frequency of the violation, but the following enforcement steps may be in order:
- Keep a record of all violations
- Attempt to resolve the issue with the co-parent
- Contact your local police department and report the problem. Be ready to show them a copy of your custody order
- Contact your District Attorney’s office to report a child abduction if the other parent has disappeared with the child or refuses to return him/her at the appointed time. Keeping a child against the custody order or absconding with a child is considered child abduction in California even if the abducting person is a parent
- File an order of contempt, asking a judge to enforce the custody arrangement
It’s important to remember that child support and child custody are two different things. A parent cannot withhold a child from the child-support-paying parent just because he/she is behind on child support. Child support payment is a separate enforcement issue.
If one parent feels that the child is endangered by the other parent, they can keep the child away from that parent in an emergency situation but it’s essential that they follow up immediately through the proper legal channels.
A skilled and experienced family lawyer or divorce attorney can help you with questions about your child custody order.