Do I have the right to deny my ex-spouse court-ordered custody?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Once a child custody court order is in place, you are required to comply with all of its provisions, regardless of how inconvenient. Most child custody court orders will contain specific directions for how parents will share a child throughout the year. If, for example, the court order states that you are to give up your kids to your ex-spouse for four weeks in the summer, you’re required to comply with the details of that summer visitation order.

As a result, a clash in your schedule will not be considered good cause for violating a court order. Failure to comply with the court’s custody order could result in a civil enforcement action against you, with possible penalties including contempt of court. The court can also order you to pay your ex-spouse’s attorneys’ fees associated with the motion. Some states make it a criminal offense to interfere with child custody, including retaining a child in your possession when you know it is the other parent’s turn to exercise visitation or custody. In essence, failure to follow a court’s order can result in more issues and inconveniences.

Working Out a Separate Agreement

Most child custody court orders will include provisions that require the other parent to notify you in writing in advance of when they would like to exercise summer visitation. You may be able to legitimately deny a period of summer visitation if your ex-spouse did not follow the notice requirements of your child custody orders. Otherwise, your final option may be to reach an agreement with your ex-spouse. Almost all child custody orders begin with a phrase like, “in the absence of an agreement between the parties.” This means that the outlined visitation order only kicks in when the parties cannot agree on a resolution themselves. The order will not prevent you from trying to work out a better plan with your ex-spouse.

If all else fails and you have a valid concern for the safety of your child, you may want to consider a modification of your child custody orders. A family law attorney in your area can advise you whether your reasons for wanting to deny custody are sufficient to support a modification of your child custody agreement.

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