Can I Refuse Visitation When My Ex is Behind on Child Support?

Sarah and Brad were married for 10 years and recently got a divorce. In the divorce settlement, Brad was awarded visitation of their two children every other weekend and alternating holidays. Brad was also ordered to pay a total of $700 a month child support for the children. The first year after the divorce, things went smoothly. Brad made his support payments in full and on time. Several months ago, Brad was laid off work. He is collecting unemployment and can’t afford the support payments. He has told Sarah that he is doing his best, and will catch up when he finds a job. Sarah is a now single working mom and is having serious trouble making ends meet without the support payments. When Brad showed up for his weekend with the kids, Sarah refused to allow the kids to go with him. In anger and frustration she told him once he makes good on his support payments, she will consider giving him visitation.

When an ex falls behind on child support, some parents rationalize that it’s okay to refuse visitation. After all, if the ex isn’t helping to support the child, why should he or she be entitled to time with the child? However, that’s not how the legal system works, and parents who refuse visitation when the ex is behind on child support are not complying with the terms of the custody agreement.

Visitation and child support are not related. Child support isn’t a fee that one parent pays to get access to the child. It’s intended to prevent the child from being deprived of one parent’s income if that parent isn’t living with the child. It’s intended to give the child the benefit of both parents’ incomes. If one parent falls behind on child support, that doesn’t invalidate the custody agreement; the custodial parent isn’t legally permitted to withhold visitation on the grounds of non-payment of child support.

If You Want to Change Visitation, Modify the Custody Agreement

Visitation, or a parenting plan, is a part of your custody agreement. If you want to change visitation, you must legally modify the custody agreement. If a parent is entitled to visit the child according to the custody agreement, the custodial parent isn’t permitted to withhold those visits under any circumstances, except if the child is in danger.

If your child is in danger from your ex, seek a protective order and file to modify the custody agreement. The court may order supervised visitation rather than denying visitation altogether. It’s not legal for you to unilaterally make decisions that violate the custody agreement.

Modifying the custody agreement to change the visitation schedule requires a trip back to court, and you may be required to prove that the visits aren’t in the child’s best interests if you attempt to reduce the frequency of visitation. If you attempt to withhold visits to get the other parent to pay child support, the court will not modify the custody agreement to reduce visitation. There are separate remedies for non-payment of child support, and those remedies are not related to visitation.

Unfortunately, sometimes things can continue to be rocky even after your divorce settlement. If you are having problems with custody or visitation issues, do not take matters into your own hands. Speak with an experienced family law attorney to ensure that your interests and those of your children, and protected.

What To Do Next:
Experiencing a family law issue can be overwhelming and stressful. Knowledgeable family attorneys do much more than represent clients, they understand how choices made in the legal process can drastically affect life afterwards.

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