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Enforcing a Father's Visitation Rights

Custody arrangements are part of any divorce settlement involving minor children. The court decides which parent has physical custody and usually gives the other parent visitation rights after the divorce. If the mother has primary custody of the children, the fathers visitation rights will be part of the divorce order.

The court always tries to act in the childrens best interests. If a father has visitation rights, it is because the court wants the children to have contact with both parents. The court takes those rights seriously, and if the mother or anyone else makes it hard for him to see his children, it can step in to help.

A father with visitation has the right to see his children according to the court order. The order will include a visitation schedule (sometimes called a parenting plan) that is legally enforceable.

When Do a Father's Visitation Rights Need To Be Enforced?

If there is a problem with visitation, large or small, the father needs to keep a record. The court will assist the father if he can show a pattern of interference with visitation. The father should take notes on:

  • How much time was missed with the child
  • Contact with the mother
  • What efforts he made to reschedule
  • Anything else that shows a pattern of interference with visitation

If the problem with visitation is minor and the father and mother are on good terms, a simple discussion and change of schedules may solve the problem.

Larger visitation problems may require the court to help. If the mother gives the father little or no contact with his children, it is called alienation. Alienation is always a reason for court enforcement of visitation rights. In many states, it may also be a reason for a change of custody.

The mother does not have to be the one causing a visitation problem. In many states, it is a criminal act for any person, related or not, to keep a father from visitation. In this case, local law enforcement should be notified.

How Are Visitation Rights Enforced?

The father or his attorney may ask the police to enforce the visitation order. Although this is legal, the father needs to consider the effect it may have on the children.

The father's attorney can also file a motion with the court. The motion can be to enforce or to modify visitation. The court may:

  • Change the visitation plan if it is very broad or unclear
  • Increase a fathers visitation rights
  • Schedule and enforce additional visits
  • Require visitation outside the mothers home
  • Decrease the amount of alimony paid by the father
  • Hold the mother in contempt of court
  • Change custody, in extreme cases

The divorce order may still be enforced if the mother has moved out of state. Federal law requires all states to follow a valid visitation order. The father may need to register the order in the state where his children live.

Visitation Rights vs. Child Support

Child support and visitation are two separate issues. Each parent has the duty to support his or her children. A father cannot stop paying child support if he is denied visitation. Failing to pay child support will never help a visitation case and actually may work against the father.  Learn more about custody and the father's rights movement.