Enforcing a Visitation Order

In California, all custody decisions are made according to a child’s best interest. This includes being able to have a loving, healthy relationship with both of their parents, whenever possible. However, these relationships can’t blossom without quality time.

That’s why when parents don’t live together, the court will often issue a visitation order. These edicts ensure that the rights of both parents are being upheld, and that each has the chance to foster a meaningful relationship with their child.

California courts don’t make these orders lightly, and failure to uphold them can trigger serious legal consequences. 

If your child’s other parent isn’t cooperating with your custody arrangements, here’s what you need to know about enforcing a visitation order in California, and how the Maples team can help protect your rights and your child’s best interests. 


What is a Visitation Order?

Visitation orders dictate how a child’s time will be spent, including where the child will live, and how they will spend holidays. They are a key part of upholding parental rights—in particular, a parent’s right to have access to their child. 

In terms of child custody, this access is often referred to as “physical custody.” 

Both parents have the right to physical custody with their child. However, if they aren’t living under the same roof, this time must be shared. To this end, California courts will assign one parent to be the custodial parent (or, primary residence parent), while granting the other ample parenting time in the form of visitation. 

Visitation orders are generally just one component of child custody. Along with visitation, your child custody orders will also address legal custody, and outline child support.  


How to Enforce a Visitation Order When My Ex Has Primary Custody?

It’s hard being a non-custodial parent. You don’t get enough time with your child as it is, and when your ex stops complying with visitation, this puts you in a tough spot. Because now you have to decide if the stress of enforcing visitation is worth the strain on your already limited time together.

If this situation sounds familiar, start by asking yourself these four questions: 

  1. Is my order enforceable?
  2. Does my order need to be updated?
  3. Have we tried making things easier?
  4. Is contempt really worth it?

Here’s a closer look. 

1. Enforceability

Visitation orders are kind of like personalized laws made just for you. These edicts are backed by the full weight of the law, and breaking them warrants the same legal consequences as breaking any other law. 

That being said, the police can’t enforce a law that’s too vague. 

Before jumping through legal hoops, make sure that the terms of your visitation order are clear. In some cases, headaches can be cleared up by shoring up details like specific dates and times—something you may be able to coordinate together, without the court.  


2. Updates

If your visitation order is sufficiently clear, then maybe the problem is that your order is dated. 

As all parents know, a child’s needs change just about as fast as they grow. Hence, a visitation arrangement that worked well for your family five years ago might not be the best fit here, in the present. Indeed, some agencies won’t even help enforce orders that are too old. 

If your order is no longer a good fit, then it might be time to consider a custody modification.


3. Alternatives

You don’t need to go back to court to resolve everything. Before drafting up a motion, try talking to your ex to see if there are tweaks you can make. Sometimes a simple change in drop-off location or an alternative pick up time is all it takes to keep things running smoothly. 

If it helps, there are even exchange agencies, which can help supervise the transfer of children between parents. These professionals can be really helpful at both keeping parents honest, and tracking violations. And while they do charge a fee, it’s definitely cheaper than the cost of an attorney.


4. Contempt

If all else fails, the last step you should consider is contempt of court. 

Contempt is a criminal action, which can be taken against someone who intentionally and willfully violates a court order. This is a serious charge, and one that comes with a very high burden of proof, meaning they’re tough to litigate—especially for visitation violations. 

In terms of custody agreements, contempt is most often used as a means to enforce child support

If you are thinking about pursuing contempt, it’s a good idea to consult your family law attorney, first. In many cases, the potential benefits aren’t worth the effort of pursuing in terms of visitation. 


Visitation Order Modification

Judges don’t want to see you back right after delivering your original visitation order. However, under the right circumstances they are willing to consider a custody order modification.

Some of these circumstances might include: 

  • A repeated, long standing pattern of custody order violations. 
  • The child’s education needs have changed.
  • The custodial parent’s home environment has changed. 
  • The child is being subjected to harm under the current order.
  • One parent is no longer fit to carry out parental responsibilities. 
  • There has been a change of employment. 
  • The custodial parent needs to relocate

As always, California parents are free to draft their own parenting planand modifications. This can be done between the individual parents, or in a more structured environment, such as mediation

Remember, however, that the changes will not be enforceable until they are approved by a judge—even if both of you agree. Until then, be sure to follow your original order, or else you could risk being held in contempt.


Enforcing a Visitation Order in California

Failure to comply with visitation isn’t just a violation of your parental rights. It’s also an affront to your child, who is being robbed of the opportunity to foster a loving, healthy relationship with their other parent.

That’s why if you have more questions about enforcing a visitation order in California, we want to hear from you. Call the Maples Family Law team at (209) 989-4425, or get in touch online, and let us help ensure your child’s best interests are being met.