Being denied visitation is a painful experience, whether you're being shut out by the courts or your ex. Before you can decide what to do next, you need to understand first why you're being denied visitation and what your options are from here on out. Here are some of the most common reasons why child visitation may be denied to a parent, and what you can do if this happens to you:
Why You May Be Denied Visitation by the Court
Generally speaking, it's rare for the courts to completely deny child visitation.
One exception would be if the courts believe visitation safety is an issue or could pose a physical or emotional threat to your children's wellbeing. In some cases, the judge may require parenting classes, anger management work, or drug or alcohol treatment before regular visitation continues. In the event that the court issues this type of requirement, it's best to comply as soon as possible to demonstrate your commitment to resuming regular time with your kids.
Alternatives to Denying Visitation
The courts will often require supervised visitation instead of denying child visitation altogether. In cases where supervised visitation is required, the parent may or may not have a say in who provides the supervision and where the visits will take place. If the judge issues an order requiring supervised visits, be sure to get all the details on where visits will take place, who is eligible to fill the supervisor role and the length of each visit.
You'll also want to know if the order is temporary or hinges on the completion of other court-ordered requirements, such as proof of participation in specific classes or the completion of a court-approved alcohol treatment.
Visitation and Child Support
Many parents worry that falling behind on child support could be grounds for losing child custody or visitation.
However, the courts generally view custody and child support as two entirely different matters. Consequences for not paying child support on time and in full include:
- Having your drivers' license suspended
- Not being able to get a passport
- Wage garnishment
- And even imprisonment
However, loss of visitation privileges is not a standard consequence of falling behind on child support.
Reasons Why Your Ex May Deny Visitation
When your ex blocks visitation, he or she may have reasons that go far beyond the concerns that cause U.S. courts to deny child visitation. For example, custodial parents have been known to deny visits for:
- Outstanding/unpaid child support
- Transportation issues
- Concern over the other parent's relationship choices
- When the child doesn't want to participate
- Out of fear or anger
- Safety concerns
- And many other reasons
Of course, not all of these reasons will hold up in court. Yet the courts may frown upon parents repeatedly turning to the court to settle minor disputes—so it's in your best interest to try and settle the issue with your ex first, before taking further action. Let's explore your options.
What to Do When Your Ex Denies Visitation
- Document your concerns. Keep a log of what's happening each time you are denied visitation. Even if the issue gets resolved before your next court date, it's important to keep up-to-date documentation to support your child custody or visitation case.
- Speak with your ex. Find out why he or she is denying visitation and what you can do about it. It's best to schedule an appointment where the two of you can speak freely without being overheard by your kids. For example, meet for 30 minutes at a coffee shop to find out what's behind the visitation issues you're experiencing.
- Address anything fixable. If your ex's concerns are specific and 'fixable,' do what you can to remedy the issue. For example, adding a bed railing for a four-year-old is a reasonable request. If your ex is concerned that your kids don't have their own bedrooms or that they're sleeping on air mattresses, talk through any plans you have to move into a larger place or what you're doing to make 'camping' on the floor temporarily fun and safe.
- Clarify boundaries with new partners. If your ex is upset that you're dating someone new who is also spending time with the kids, talk through any expectations to decide what's reasonable and what's not. While you may not want to slow down the relationship, developing a clear, incremental plan for how much time your children will spend with your new partner—and where—can help to ease displaced anxieties and rebuild trust with your ex.
- Consider legal action. If you don't have an official child custody and visitation order on file with the courts, then it may be time to formally file for visitation rights. If you've been granted visitation already by the court, and your ex is overtly denying your visitation rights, then it's time to escalate matters and call the police.
- Call the police. In most situations, the police will not take sides. Instead, they will take notes, which the courts will have the opportunity to review. It's important to understand this before you make the call so that you're not frustrated and angry when police officers arrive and tell you that there's not much they can do beyond filing a report. (The last thing you need is a report that claims you were irate and enraged—no matter how valid those feelings may be.) A word of caution: be prepared to show the officers a copy of your court order. Without it, they may not even file a report.
- File a motion. If being denied visitation is becoming a pattern, you should also file a motion with the court. Here you have two options: file a motion of contempt, which is basically saying that your ex is in contempt of court for violating the order that was issued previously. Or, you can file a motion asking the court to modify the order, enforce the order, or issue sanctions against your ex in order to prevent this trend from continuing. Even if the judge does not rule in your favor, your concerns will be formally documented. In general, though, it's best to consult with an experienced, qualified child custody lawyer before taking this step.
Parental Alienation Syndrome
We can't discuss the issue of one parent denying visitation to another without addressing Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). This is a pattern of not only denying contact but also negatively influencing the child's perception of the parent. Imagine having your worst flaws—and then some—drilled into your kids' minds, to the point where they believe it and accept the loss of contact as being for their own good.
That's Parental Alienation Syndrome, and while there are virtually no dependable statistics stating how many parents fall prey to PAS, I believe it's more widespread than we can imagine. This is why it's so important not to badmouth your ex to your children or without court-ordered visitation. If you believe you are a victim of PAS, you need to hire a lawyer—preferably one with experience handling PAS cases.
What to Do When the Court Denies Visitation
We've addressed what to do when your ex denies visitation, but what about the courts? What can you do then? Is there anything you can to do regain time with your children? Yes. The first thing you need to do is comply with the order—every part of it. If the court says you need to take parenting classes, take them and file a certificate of completion with the court to demonstrate your compliance. You'll also want to get a lawyer if you don't have one already. And remember that while this setback is disheartening, it's not the last word. There's every reason to remain hopeful that as you work through these steps you will be able to regain regular visitation with your children.