Sometimes after a divorce, parents unfortunately have trouble following agreements or court orders in regards to child custody and visitation. When one parent interferes with the other parent’s visitation, it can lead to frustration, turmoil and serious legal consequences.
New Jersey Child Custody and Visitation
When the parents of minor children decide to end their relationship and separate or divorce, they usually end up with child custody orders. Child custody includes legal custody, which refers to a parent’s authority to participate in major decisions regarding a child’s health, education, or general welfare. Physical custody, refers to the child’s actual presence with a parent.
Joint legal custody is when the parents share major parenting decisions, while joint physical custody means that the children live with each parent for nearly equal amounts of time. New Jersey courts commonly order joint legal custody, however, they generally order joint physical custody only when the parents are both committed to the idea of shared parenting.
New Jersey law no longer uses the term “visitation,” but if a child spends more than 72% of their time with one parent, the court will designate that parent as the “primary parent of residence” (PPR) and the other parent as the “parent of alternate residence” (PAR). In more traditional terms, the PPR has physical custody, and the PAR has visitation.
Violating New Jersey Custody and Visitation Orders
Interference can be anything that inhibits the relationship between the child and the other parent, including but not only extreme behavior, such as preventing contact entirely, but also things like intercepting letters or emails, blocking phone calls or continually scheduling children’s activities away from home during the other parent’s normal visitation time.
While courts encourage parents to remain in touch with children during separations, behavior such as telephoning constantly or dropping by the other parent’s home uninvited is considered disruptive. Interference also includes speaking negatively about the other parent to the child or within the child’s presence, since this can reduce the child’s desire to spend time with the other parent.
Denying Visitation or Withholding Child Support
Occasionally, a parent who isn’t receiving timely child support payments feels entitled to prevent the paying parent from seeing the children. Parents need to understand that child custody and child support are two completely separate issues. A parent who hasn’t received support in a timely manner can go to court to enforce payments, but should never use the children as bargaining chips. Likewise, if one parent is blocking access to the children, the other parent needs to seek help from the courts, not withhold child support.
Children Refuse to Visit
Parents have an obligation to encourage children to spend time with the other parent, but courts rarely oversee this. While a court can order a parent to transport a young child to the other parent’s home or mutually designated location, older children become less transportable and more difficult to manage.
A judge who believes that a child is not spending time with one parent because of the actions of the other will not attempt to force the child to see both parents, but could instead change the primary residential parent. A court will only order this change, however, if it finds that it’s in the child’s best interests.
Parent Consistently Missing Visitation
Failing to arrive for scheduled visitation times or constantly arriving late is not in the child’s best interests. Children need to know that their parents care enough to make consistent efforts to spend time with them. Parents who don’t fulfill this responsibility may lose future visitation time with their children.
Consequences of Interference with Custody or Visitation
If a parent violates a court regarding custody or parenting time, a New Jersey court can order almost any remedy that is fair and appropriate, including holding the parent in contempt. Other possible actions can include:
- Ordering “make-up” parenting time.
- Ordering the interfering parent to pay for counseling for the children or for the other parent.
- Ordering the interfering parent to pay any costs resulting from the interference.
- Changing the children’s transportation arrangements or pick-up location.
- Changing parenting time either temporarily or permanently.
- Ordering the interfering parent to participate in community service.
- Ordering the arrest and imprisonment of the interfering parent.
Interfering with court-ordered parenting time can amount to a criminal act under New Jersey law. A parent who conceals a child from the other parent for the purpose of interfering with custody or visitation may serve jail time.
The professionals at Artusa can help you with your parenting time order, making sure your rights are protected and obtain an outcome that is in your best interest and the best interest of your child.