It is no secret; divorce is hard. And while there are many reasons that go into this invariable truth, one of the most challenging difficulties divorce brings on is learning how to split time with your children. Even assuming both parents are equally healthy and supportive influences in their children’s lives, a divorce can potentially reduce by half or more the time you are able to see your children. This is no easy pill to swallow.
Fortunately, the courts have recognized the difficulty in resolving this problem and have created a step in the divorce process called a Parenting Plan. It requires both parents to attempt to put their differences aside and put their children’s best interest first by working out a plan that addresses a variety of topics. These topics range from which parent has decision-making authority, to where the child resides on certain days and where and when the child should be dropped off for parent exchange. When completed, this Parenting Plan becomes a legally binding outline that creates and guides duties, schedules and expectations for each parent with regard to how they will share their parental rights and obligations. It can also help to give peace of mind to both the parents and children alike.
In a perfect world, the fact that this Parenting Plan, ordered by the court, where both parents are legally obligated to honor the specifications agreed upon, would be enough to ensure that both parties adhere to the plan. But what happens if one of the parents refuses to comply with the guidelines set in place, disrespecting the other parent’s rights and causing a disruption to the schedule, inevitably creating a sense of havoc for not just the other parent, but the children as well? Are there rules in place that allow for a parenting plan to be enforced so that the rogue parent is forced to follow the outlined agreements set in place?
Fortunately, there are. Since a Parenting Plan is a legal order, the court retains the right to enforce it. However, getting the non-complying parent to follow the plan can often mean involving the court, which can be time consuming and expensive. This is especially true when the issue of whether a parent’s actions actually violated the plan is not necessarily black and white. When making these decisions, the court will look at the whole situation and consider all of the various factors that are in play. Since we are all human after all, it is important to consider not just the what but also the why behind the breach of the parenting plan. There is a big difference between withholding a child altogether, and showing up one hour late. If your ex wasn’t able to drop the kids off with you because of an unexpected emergency and you file a motion seeking enforcement, it’s not unlikely that you’ll end up putting forth a lot of time and money for legal fees just to be told from the court that yes, the violation did occur, but it was with good reason, and thus no remedy is necessary.
In order to prevent this from happening, it is important that when violations occur, you put bias and past resentment aside and consider the situation as impartially as possible. Perhaps these violations are due more to the growing pains of getting used to a new schedule and/or unexpected circumstances than a blatant decision to ignore the plan for no good reason. If they are, you may want to try working through these bumps in the road with your ex personally, rather than involving the court.
How Can the Court Help?
However, If the violation is serious and you believe that the court does needs to get involved, you will first need to file a motion seeking enforcement. Once filed, a hearing will be scheduled, usually within 45 days. During this hearing, the court will determine if a violation has occurred, and whether the violation requires a remedy.
The severity of the offense will play a large factor in the remedy that the court employs to deal with it. For example, if it was a minor offense, the court may remedy the situation by allotting one parent more time with the child to compensate for time lost. If the violation was severe, the court has the authority to order a hearing to modify the entire custody arrangement, to suspend child support, add new terms to the parenting plan, order counseling or parenting courses, or even order the violating parent to pay the other’s legal fees.
If your ex is violating the parenting plan you agreed on, and in turn disturbing you and your children’s well-being, consider if it’s time to file a motion seeking enforcement. Our attorneys have years of experience with enforcement hearings, and understand the importance of maintaining a healthy family dynamic amidst big changes such as divorce. We are here to listen, advocate, and fight for favorable results on your behalf. Call us today at (503) 227-0200 to set up a Case Evaluation and get started.