As a parent, losing full-time access to your children in the wake of a divorce can be a difficult experience. Your frustration may be magnified if the custodial parent is uncooperative or antagonistic. Unless a court has terminated your parental rights, however, you still have the right to limited visitation and the right to participate in major decisions affecting the welfare of your children.
Obeying the Custody Order
Family courts usually encourage parents to agree on custody issues if possible. With or without an agreement, however, the court will issue a written custody order that sets out your rights as a non-custodial parent. Even if you disagree with the custody order, it has the force of law and you could face legal consequences for violating its terms.
Understanding Your Visitation Rights
The custody order will explain your visitation rights in detail. It will list the exact times and days of the week that your children will spend with you, which holidays you can enjoy with them, and which extracurricular and school activities you can attend. The custody order will also outline responsibility for transportation to your home or another location where you will spend time with your children.
Making Important Life Decisions
Most states recognize two types of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. If physical custody is granted to only one parent, the child will live with that parent most or all of the time. Legal custody, on the other hand, means the right to make important life decisions for your children. These include matters of religious upbringing and school selection.
Even if the custody order requires your children to live with the other parent, it might still grant you full or joint legal custody. Review the custody order to determine how much authority you have, and consult with a family law attorney if you need help understanding the document.
The Relationship Between Child Support and Visitation
Under the law, child support is an obligation to your children, not to the custodial parent. So, even if your former spouse disobeys the custody order, such as by refusing to allow you visitation rights with your children, you may not retaliate by refusing to pay child support. If you fail to make child support payments, you could be sued, and you might also jeopardize your visitation rights.
Enforcing the Custody Order
If the custodial parent refuses to comply with the custody order, keep a written record of each violation. Write down dates, times and other important details, such as your efforts to reschedule missed visits and the custodial parent's response to your efforts. With this information, your attorney may be able to convince the court to enforce the custody order or, in some states, grant custody to you. Keep in mind that requesting court intervention is a serious decision, and it may have legal consequences for your former spouse that could make a strained relationship even more difficult.
Modifying the Custody Order
You can go to court and request that the child custody order be modified in response to changes in life circumstances or the changing needs of your children. You might seek increased or modified visitation, reduced child support or a complete reversal of physical or legal custody. The easiest way to modify a custody order is to work out a written agreement with the custodial parent and then seek approval from the family court.
If you go to court, you'll have to establish a good reason for the modification request, such as a significant change in your work schedule, reduced income or the desires of your children. Court orders will always be based on the "best interests of the child" standard.
A Child Custody Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the rights of non-custodial parents is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a child custody lawyer.