What Can You Do in California if the Other Parent Isn’t Following Your Custody Agreement?

Custody agreements are powerful yet fragile. The terms of custody arrangements and parenting plans are supposed to control interactions between parents and their child, as well as between parents themselves. In that sense, they are quite powerful. But they are fragile because they are only a theoretical arrangement. Though backed by the force of law, the agreement on its own does not have the power to force a parent to abide by the terms. Instead, when a parent fails to do what they’re supposed to do under a custody agreement, the other parent needs to take action to enforce the terms.

If you’re in a situation where the other parent is not living up to obligations or otherwise behaving badly, it is a good idea to consult a knowledgeable family law attorney, because the best steps to take will depend on a lot of factors unique to your situation. Here are some options to consider.

Keep Records

Regardless of the type of violation or how many times it has happened, start keeping records. Take note of what happened and when (and how it compares with what was supposed to happen.) If there are records to support your notes, such as an exchange of text message or emails, keep those with your log of violations. If there are witnesses to a violation, note them. (Of course, your children will be witnesses, but you don’t ever want to put them in the position of having to testify to the other parent’s failures, so don’t list them as witnesses.)

When you see a list of the problems written out, it can help you assess how serious the situation is as you decide what to do next. Your records may also serve as evidence.

Have Your Attorney Contact the Other Parent

If the violations of the custody agreement are not putting your children at risk, you might want to start by having your attorney contact the other parent. This lets the other parent know that you understand your legal rights and are prepared to take action if necessary, but it lets them change their ways without formally getting into trouble. It serves as a warning.

It also gives your attorney the chance to find out what’s going on. The other parent may be willing to talk to your attorney about a problem that they’re not willing to admit to you. If your attorney suggests modifying the custody agreement to accommodate the problem, the other parent may be more willing to accept the suggestion from the attorney than from you.

Brining in Law Enforcement

In some situations, it might make sense to contact the local police with a copy of the order and ask for assistance with enforcement. If you suspect the other parent is trying to abduct your child, contact the child abduction unit of the county district attorney’s office for assistance.

Filing for Contempt of Court

Because the custody agreement is part of a court order, you can ask your attorney to file an Order to Show Cause and Affidavit for Contempt with the court. The documents describe the order that was violated with details about the violations. This starts the process of a contempt proceeding. The other parent must be served with a copy of the documents, and they have a chance to file an answer. Then a formal hearing is held with evidence presented to show why the other parent should or should not be held in contempt of court for violating the order.

This is a criminal charge and a serious matter. You should discuss the issue with your attorney before proceeding. The other parent could face jail time and other penalties.

Changing the Custody Agreement

A custody agreement backed by a court order cannot be legally changed by an agreement between the parties. Even if you work out a plan to adjust the terms of your custody arrangement and both of you agree to the changes, you still need approval from the court before you start operating according to a different plan. If you alter plans before obtaining a new order from the court, you could be held liable for violating the order. A court order can only be changed by another court order, so to change your custody agreement, you need to ask the court for an amended order.

Get the Advice and Assistance You Need with Enforcement of Custody Agreements

When a parent fails to follow custody arrangements ordered by the court, it has a negative impact on your children and your life as a whole. You have options for addressing the problem, but determining the right options will require an evaluation of all the details.

With over 300 years of collective experience, the team at Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC knows how to enforce and seek changes in custody agreements to protect your parental rights and your children’s well-being. For a confidential consultation to learn more about your options, contact our team today.



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