Divorce Agreements and Enforcing Visitation
Once you have completed the divorce process and the final decree has been issued, all parties are obligated to adhere to its terms and conditions, unless they are modified later on. Unfortunately, some ex-spouses do not live up to their end of the agreement. One of the most common issues where there is frequently conflict between ex-spouses is with child custody and visitation.
When the original parenting plan is negotiated, it should be as specific as possible. The plan should not only include the regular visitation schedule, but also issues such as holiday and summer visitation, who will bring the kids to school, who will take the kids to medical appointments, communication between the parents and the children, and many others. During the divorce, children have a lot of uncertainty about what will happen going forward. A specific and comprehensive parenting plan helps provide some degree of certainty to a child’s life during a difficult time.
Enforcing Visitation Rights
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to create a workable parenting plan upfront, one of the parents does not follow the plan. For example, one parent might keep the child longer than they are supposed to, or one parent may try to change the days the other parent can visit the child. If this type of situation happens once or twice because of a unique circumstance or scheduling issue, it is probably not much to worry about.
Occasional changes to the visitation schedule are sometimes unavoidable, and you should do your best to be flexible with your ex-spouse. There may be times when you need to make a scheduling change as well, so try to be understanding and give the other parent some leeway to work around the inevitable things that come up every now and then. Try to handle the situation in a peaceable manner, and work with your ex to reschedule the time that you are owed and move forward.
If alterations to the visitation schedule start becoming a regular habit, however, it may be time to take some additional steps to protect your rights:
Keep Detailed Notes
When the other parent is regularly violating the visitation schedule, it is important to keep records that document information such as how much time you have missed with your children, your attempts to reschedule visitation time that is owed to you, and the communication you have had between you and your ex on this issue. Write down detailed notes about each incident and be sure to retain any electronic communication pertaining to it. If you end up having to go back to court, this documentation will be very helpful in substantiating your arguments.
Reach out to the Other Parent
Going to court is an adversarial step that could severely damage your relationship with the other parent and have adverse effects on your child. Before taking this step, it may be useful to speak with your ex informally about the situation. Sometimes, it could just be a case of the other parent misunderstanding something about their obligations under the divorce agreement, or a similar issue. By communicating clearly and getting everything out in the open, you may be able to resolve these issues on your own and without the need for any further action.
Make Sure You are in Compliance with the Parenting Plan
Another thing you want to do before going to court is to thoroughly review the divorce agreement and make sure you are in full compliance with the parenting plan and visitation arrangement. One possible defense your ex may use if you end up in court is “unclean hands.” In other words, if you are not in full compliance with the divorce agreement yourself, the law will not come to your assistance to enforce these provisions on your ex-spouse.
Contact an Attorney to Initiate Visitation Enforcement Action
If your ex is denying you visitation rights to your child and you have exhausted all other efforts to resolve the situation, you may need to ask the court for help. Taking legal action can get complicated, however, and it is best to retain an experienced family law attorney to help you navigate the complexities of this process. An attorney can assist you with preparing and filing the appropriate documents, appearing with you at your court hearings, and advocating forcefully to help ensure that your rights and the best interests of your child are protected.
For immediate assistance with violations of child custody and visitation orders and all other family legal matters in South Carolina, contact the Cate Law Firm at 864-251-5855 for a confidential consultation. You may also send us a message through our online contact form.