Child custody is a complicated issue that tends to provoke more extreme reactions compared with other issues related to divorce. Both parents usually want as much time with the child as possible, but the practical reality of most parenting arrangements is that one parent (the custodial parent) has the child the majority of the time. The non-custodial parent is entitled to reasonable parenting time in accordance with the best interests of the child. Michigan public policy position on the division of parenting responsibility is to promote a strong relationship through frequent contact with both parents. As a result, most divorced parents will split the time they have with their child according to a schedule (ideally flexible) which is incorporated into the parenting plan, the document that outlines decision-making authority and parenting time allocation for shared children. The parenting time terms included in the court-approved parenting plan, which all must be, are not suggestions, or arbitrary. Consequently, both parents need to follow what is provided, or face serious consequences. A discussion of how a parent may violate the terms of parenting plan, and the options the other parent has to stop further interference with his/her parental rights, will follow below.
Ways to Violate Parenting Plan
The purpose behind establishing parenting time schedules and options for additional communication is to ensure that a parent is able to continuously exercise his or her rights through frequent contact with the child. Parents cannot fulfill their duties without regular contact, and absent a showing of detriment to the best interests of child, each parent retains the right to see and speak with the child on a regular basis. Thus, the way a parent violates a parenting plan is by blocking the other parent’s access to the child. This can manifest in a number of ways, including:
- Prohibiting the child from speaking to the other parent over the phone, video chat, etc.;
- Blocking the child’s access to emails or other forms of electronic communication from the other parent;
- Returning the child late;
- Not allowing the child to go on the vacation with the other parent when permitted under parenting plan; or
- Not releasing the child to the other parent during his/her appointed parenting time.
Note that a court will only get involved over actions to restrict access to the child, and will not address problems surrounding a failure to return a child’s personal effects or comply with caretaking instructions unless they are essential to the child’s well-being. Parents need to work out these secondary issues privately.
Consequences for Blocking Access
Parents seeking to enforce their rights under a parenting plan have two options to seek court intervention – hire a family law attorney to file an enforcement petition, or file a complaint with the Friend of the Court (FOC) to handle the matter. In either case, the likely first step is to attempt to settle the situation privately in order to determine what led to the violations, steps to prevent such action in the future, and perhaps working out extra parenting time to make up for what was lost when the violations occurred. Note that the FOC can order make-up parenting time under its own authority to remedy the situation. If negotiations fail, or are not reasonable under the circumstances (particularly when the violations are repeated and/or severe), filing an enforcement with the court, which can involve asking for extra parenting time or initiating a contempt hearing, is common. If held in contempt, the parent can be jailed or face fines if no reasonable justification for the violations are presented.
You deserve to see your child on a regular basis, and if the other parent is not complying with the parenting plan terms, speak with an experienced family law attorney about enforcing your rights. Our attorneys understand the stress this situation causes, and will fight to get the outcome you deserve