Child Custody, Visitation and Contempt

Custody and visitation orders in Georgia are separate from orders of contempt. Custody and visitation orders are always awarded on the best interest of the children involved. Even if parents decide on a parenting agreement the court will still issue an order to indicate a parenting plan to delineate parental responsibilities, primary residence, and specific parenting times for each parent. Once a custody and visitation order is established both parents must comply with the order or they can be held in contempt of the court order.

Violating a custody or visitation order is serious and as a consequence, can result in a modification of custody or visitation, when necessary to address the, “willful disregard to the courts orders.” In some instances violators of a child custody or visitation order can even be subjected to arrest, incarceration, and monetary fines. If you are suspected of violating a custody or visitation order then it is important that you contact counsel immediately as a case against you can result in serious consequences for both you and your children. Most of the time violations of custody and visitation orders stem from non-payment of child support and or for hindrance of a parent child relationship. The following are a list of behaviors which are typical of hostile aggressive parents and parents that are attempting to alienate the child from the other parent. You should seek an attorney if you believe that the other parent is “willfully engaging in any of the following activities.”

Blocking Visitation
If a parent is intentionally making a child unavailable for court ordered visitation it is considered visitation interference. Parents may attempt to block visitation as a means of controlling the other parent or preventing the child from spending time with the other parent due to a deep seeded hatred of the other parent—revenge. Blocking Visitation takes many forms and may manifest itself by the parent specifically scheduling activities to interfere with the visitation time and refusing to allow the other parent to obtain visitation due to the activity. It may also come in a direct form where one parent will directly and “willfully” state that they will not allow for the child to attend visitation—sometimes with an excuse and sometimes without an excuse. It is important to document every time that you are denied visitation and to present such documentation during a contempt proceeding. Without evidence that the other parent denied visitation you may not be able to hold the other party in contempt. If you are able to speak to the other parent when you are denied visitation you may also record the conversation and bring your court order with you. If you are still denied you may ask for the police to enforce the visitation order.

Blocking Communication
Blocking communication is another serious offense that may be addressed in a contempt hearing. Blocking communication is when a parent intercepts the other parent’s attempts to make contact with their child through text messages, phone calls, letters, cards, or emails. Blocking communications may or may not specifically be addressed in a custody or visitation order; however, such behaviors are considered threatening to the parent child relationship. In some instances the hostile aggressive parent will remove personal phones provided to the children to contact the other parent or even block incoming calls from the other parent, turn off their phone, hang up on phone calls, and or place the phone on silent and ignore incoming calls. Even if a court order doesn’t specifically bar this type of activity most courts still view this type of interference with the child- parent relationship as detrimental and are less likely to provide more custody rights to a parent that is alienating the other, as it is not in the child’s best interest.

Children Refusing to Visit
In some cases the parents engaging in hostile aggressive parenting will claim that their attempts of alienation in the child-parent relationship are a result of the child being unwilling to maintain a relationship with the other parent. In reality the children are actually encouraged to avoid contact with the other parent and may be rewarded for not spending time with the other parent or through negative conditioning are influenced in not spending time with the other parent. Parental alienation and hostile aggressive parenting may achieve the child’s denial for visitation by speaking negatively about the other parent or encouraging the child to not love the other parent. It is important to handle such situations carefully and to consult a licensed child therapist if such occurrences exist, in some situations the child may in fact be refusing to visit due to abuse, harsh disciplinary actions, or lack of affection from the visiting parent. It is also important to note that the court is frequently very skeptical of claims that a child absolutely does not want to see their other parent – and it is often the view of the court that most minor children are too young to make this decision and the parents are obligated to make visitation happen despite a minor child’s reluctance to see the other parent.  Also, these claims usually are not a good defense in a contempt case for denying visitation to the child’s other parent.

No Child Support … No Visitation
In some instances a parent will deny the visiting parent visitation in an attempt to obtain child support. Parents that withhold visitation for lack of child support are operating under the premise that the visiting parent is not in compliance of the court order so they aren’t required to either until the obligations are fulfilled. However, two wrongs do not make a right. If a parent has not received support on time they can contact the Department of Child Support Services, the Department of Human Services, or file a motion to enforce payments. In the courts eyes if you withhold visitation for child support you are using your children as a pawn against the other parent –against the child’s best interest. Likewise, the other parent not receiving visitation, for lack of child support, can petition the court to remedy the lack of visitation.

Missed Visitation
If a parent routinely misses visitation, failing to keep promises to children, and or arriving late to visitation, then they are also acting contradictory to a child’s best interest. It is important that the visiting parent is not intentionally harming their relationship with their children. Documenting such activity is important and seeking help for children via therapy may also be necessary—as children tend to feel guilt about them being the reason the other parent will not visit. Recently, a trend has grown where a visiting parent will routinely claim that the other parent is blocking visitation when in fact they are missing visitation. The offending parent’s goal in their actions is to alienate the other parent by causing strain in the child’s relationship and in fact falsely accuse the other parent of committing parental alienation. Once the offending parent obtains custody they will then control the other parent through the child. Yes, parental alienation can be used by either the custodial or non-custodial parent and is not gender specific, meaning that an alienating parent may be male or female.

Interference with Custody or Visitation Has Consequences
A contempt of court can be filed in any situation in which a parent has failed to comply with court obligations concerning the child. In some situations you may file for contempt on your own through county forms or may need the assistance of an attorney in more complex situations. Once a motion for contempt is filed the court will set a hearing date to hear evidence on the matter. Once a motion is filed you must serve a copy of the motion to the other parent. In order for the parent to be held in contempt it must be proven that their actions were “willful” and in violation of the court order. It is important to note that a court cannot modify custody during a contempt hearing, but as a consequence of the contempt issues can change visitation arrangements. Parents that repeatedly interfere with visitation or custody can result in a change of visitation or custody.

A remedy during a contempt hearing may include:

  • Orders for Make-up Visitation
  • Orders for the Parent Interfering to attend parenting classes.
  • Ordering the parent interfering to pay cost for the interference.
  • Altering the visitation exchange location and time.
  • Holding the interfering parent in contempt of court.
  • Ordering the parent interfering to pay fines.
  • Ordering the parent interfering to pay the other party’s attorney’s fee and expenses
  • Ordering the parent interfering to serve jail time.

In the state of Georgia interference of child custody can become a criminal act. If a non-custodial parent keeps a child away from a custodial parent, attempts to hide a child from a custodial parent, and or fails to return a child after the court ordered visitation time then they are guilty of custodial interference, parental kidnapping, etc. This type of interference can be punishable by misdemeanor or felony. In any circumstance that a parent keeps the child out of state after the expiration of the visitation period, then the offense is an interstate custody issue—a felony in every circumstance.

Even if you believe that your child is in danger or serious risk in the care of the other parent you cannot legally take settling matters by yourself by preventing the other parent access to the other parent. If the occurrence concerns abuse you should consider contacting a therapist and or Child Protective Services –based on the recommendations of the court, legal authority, and or family attorney. If the situation is an emergency, direct physical abuse, neglect, and or emotional abuse –the situation should be documented by police. If you believe the child should be protected from the other parents care then you should contact the court immediately to notify them of the circumstances and stating that the children will be protected and removed from the area to a new residential location or social service protection agency—until a motion for emergency relief is determined. If an emergency hearing is not necessary the party effected can file for contempt and modification hearings.