Your Options When the Other Parent Violates the Terms of Custody or Visitation
If you’re like most parents in divorce, even though you have irreconcilable differences with your spouse, you hope that there will be minimal impact on your minor children. Accordingly, when you work out a custody and visitation arrangement, or the court issues an order governing conservatorship and access, you work hard to honor the terms. Unfortunately, though, your ex-spouse may use your children as pawns, refusing to honor your agreement in an effort to punish or take advantage of you. What are your options in Texas when your ex-spouse violates custody or visitation terms?
Refusing to Allow Visitation
Whether you mutually agree to the custody and visitation agreement or the court makes the decision (because you can’t agree), the terms of the custody and visitation arrangement are set forth in a written order, signed and entered into the record by the court. Any party that violates the written order can be held in contempt of court. A citation for contempt of court can have serious consequences, resulting in fines or even jail time.
In Texas, the potential sanctions are even more severe—interfering with a non-custodial parent’s visitation rights is a felony offense that can lead to a $10,000 fine and up to two years in jail. In most instances, seeking criminal charges against your ex causes more harm than help to your children in the long run. Asking the prosecutor to bring criminal charges should be a last resort.
To initiate contempt proceedings, you must notify the court of your ex’s wrongful conduct. In some circumstances— for example, if your spouse indicates intent to take your children out of the state—you may want to also file a motion for a restraining order along with the motion to hold your ex in contempt of court.
Once a motion is filed, the court typically holds a hearing where both parties can produce evidence to support their positions. In Texas, the parent seeking the contempt order must show violation of specific and unambiguous terms of the custody and visitation order. Typically, the court requires evidence of dates and times, geographic locations, prohibited activities, and identities of all parties involved. As a general rule, though, courts in Texas won’t hold a parent in contempt for involuntary or negligent acts that violate the court order.
Refusing to Return a Child to the Custodial Parent
A custodial parent has a number of legal options when the non-custodial parent fails to return a child. The parent may file a writ of habeas corpus for the return of the child or seek criminal sanctions for either parental kidnapping or interference with child custody. A parent may also seek monetary damages by filing a civil action for tortious interference with possessory rights.
The writ of habeas corpus is essentially a court order requiring the non-custodial parent to return the child. If the non-custodial parent refuses to comply, he or she will be subject to criminal prosecution.
Contact the Divorce and Family Law Attorneys at Bailey & Galyen
At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment with an experienced Texas family law attorney, contact us by e-mail or call our offices at 844-402-2992. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.