Can a Parent With Sole Custody Deny Visits?
By Beverly Bird
If you have sole custody, you probably have a court order that awards you both legal custody and physical custody. Physical custody means that your child lives with you. Legal custody means you make all important decisions regarding your child without input from his other parent. Because all states believe a child should enjoy regular contact with both parents, the court order giving you sole custody probably specifies visitation times between your child and your ex. If so, you can’t suspend that visitation on your own. Only the court can deny visitation.
If your custody order does not include language setting a specific visitation schedule, it probably says something such as, “Visitation is by agreement between the parties.” If your order reads this way, you have a little flexibility. You don’t have to cancel pre-existing plans or interrupt your child’s scheduled events, such as a baseball game, if his other parent demands to see him on a moment's notice. However, if you refuse to let your child see his other parent on a regular basis, your ex can file a contempt action against you in court. Courts will sometimes change custody when one parent consistently denies, refuses or interferes with visitation.
Even if your court order does set a specific visitation routine, you don’t have to let your child go with his other parent if you honestly feel it would endanger him. For example, if his other parent arrives to pick him up and he is obviously intoxicated, you would not want your child to get in a car with him. You can deny visitation on an isolated basis for such reasons, but you should document these events as much as possible. Call the police and create a record of the incident. Protect yourself in case your ex decides to accuse you of interfering with custody for no reason.
If you’re having repeated problems with visitation, you have the right to file a motion with the court, asking a judge to address the situation. Courts will modify a custody order when warranted; you’re not necessarily at the mercy of the one you’ve got until your child reaches the age of majority. However, if you’re going to ask the court to deny your ex visitation entirely, you’ll need a very good, very well-documented reason. One or two incidents will probably not be enough to change your custody order, but repeated problems of the same nature might be. Your ex’s behavior would also have to be pretty severe for a court to curtail his right to see his child entirely. This usually means that he must have endangered your child in some way, not just that he’s a bad or irresponsible parent.
Although courts are unlikely to deny visitation completely except under extreme circumstances, this doesn’t mean judges are willing to place a child in an iffy, potentially dangerous or distressing situation over and over again. Courts sometimes award supervised visitation, where a responsible third party must always be present during the times when your child is with his other parent. A judge might also restrict visitation to daytime hours only. If you’re having real problems with visitation, speak with an attorney to find out if these options might work for you, or if your situation is so severe that you have a chance of getting visitation stopped entirely.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.