Enforcing a Custody Order

Nothing is more important to you than your child. You want to protect them, and to give them the very best in life. Which is why it can be so infuriating when your child’s other parent violates a custody order. 

Luckily, California courts get pretty upset when this happens, too, so you’re in good company. 

Not only are custody orders mandatory, but failure to comply can result in some fairly hefty financial and legal consequences—not to mention the potential loss of parental rights. So there are plenty of ways to enforce compliance, when necessary. 

Here’s what you need to know about enforcing a custody order in California, and how Maples Family Law can help you navigate this stressful situation. 


What is a Custody Order?

A custody order is a legal document that divides parental rights and responsibilities between parents who are not living under the same roof. This usually happens as a result of divorce, but it is also relevant to unmarried parents, who may want a formal agreement to dictate co-parenting responsibilities.

Among other things, custody orders outline legal and physical custody, and dictate whether this authority will be shared between parents (as “joint custody”), or held by one parent, alone (called “sole custody”). It also specifies which parent will be the child’s primary residence, the terms of any visitation schedule, and the amount of child support.

In California, each of these decisions are made with a child’s best interests at the forefront, and with full consideration of which outcome will serve their long-term health, happiness, and well-being the best. This means that when one parent fails to meet their obligations under the order, the child is the one who ultimately suffers the most. 

And, as we mentioned earlier, this isn’t something California courts take lightly.

Enforcing a Custody Order 

If you child’s other parent is refusing to cooperate with a custody order, then there are a couple of different ways you can handle things: 

  1. Talk to the other parent to resolve the issue. 
  2. Contact the police and ask them to help enforce your order. 
  3. Contact the district attorney in your county.
  4. File a motion of “contempt” with the court. 

Here’s what each of these options looks like. 


1. Talk It Out

If there isn’t a health or safety risk involved, you may want to consider simply talking to the other child’s parent, before trying anything else. 

Many times, these disagreements arise accidently (for example, not understanding the order, completely), or because of an understandable life change. If your situation ends up being one of these things, then working it out between yourselves is going to be a lot cheaper than rounding up the attorneys.


2. Contact the Police

If talking doesn’t work, the next step is to contact the police. 

Custody orders have the full force of the law. This means that failure to comply with one is tantamount to disobeying any other law, and can warrant police involvement. 

That being said, it’s harder for police to enforce something that isn’t clearly defined. Examples of clearly defined terms in a custody order might include: 

  • The dates, times, and locations of child handoffs. 
  • Where the child is supposed to be on certain holidays and birthdays. 
  • How the child will be transported between parents. 
  • The amount of child support payments. 

Without specifics, it may be more difficult for police to enforce anything. Regardless, if you’re contacting the police about enforcing custody, now would also probably be a good time to contact your attorney, as well. 


3. Contact the D.A.’s Office

Most kidnappings in the United States (and globally) are committed by family members—specifically a child’s parent. However, just because a child is with their parent doesn’t mean they’re safe, or that the action is legal. 

If you believe your child is in danger of being kidnapped by their other parent—or already has been abducted—you’ll need to contact the DA’s office, and look for the Child Abduction and Recovery Unit. 

Parental abduction can be particularly difficult to counteract if the parent flees to another country. While many countries have committed to following certain international custody procedures, these terms can be difficult to enforce, once the child is out of the country. Hence, it’s important to act fast in these situations.


4. File for Contempt 

A contempt of court action occurs when someone has willfully and intentionally violated a court order. If upheld, this charge can result in serious consequences, including steep fines, a black mark on your permanent record, and even jail time. 

This process is not about asking the court to enforce your order. It’s about punishment. And because of that, it isn’t something that should be taken on lightly. 

Where custody is concerned, contempt is generally reserved for more weighty and serious violations, such as the repeated disregard of child support, or abuse. If you think contempt might be applicable in your situation, talk to your family law attorney about what this action could entail, and whether it’s worth it to pursue. 


Custody Order Modification

At times, there may be legitimate life changes that keep your custody order from working as well as it should. If this happens, you may need to request a custody modification

In California, the court may allow modification, if: 

  • The child’s needs have changed; 
  • The custodial parent needs to relocate
  • Either parent develops a physical or mental health illness; or,
  • Evidence of abuse or neglect comes to light.

Court is not always necessary for a modification. Sometimes couples are able to negotiate these changes themselves; other times mediation is more appropriate. 

Keep in mind that even if you and your spouse agree on changes, you will still need a judge to verify your agreement before anything is enforceable. Until that happens, it’s important to continue obeying your original order, or else risk being held in contempt of court. 


Custody Order Attorneys in California

Failure to follow a custody order is a serious matter, and not one California courts take lightly. If your child’s other parent is not cooperating, then it may be time for legal action. 

For more questions about enforcing a custody order in California, and how this process might work in your situation, we want to hear from you. Call Maples Family Law at (209) 989-4425, or get in touch online, and let us help ensure your child’s best interests are being met.