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Withholding Visitation

Withholding Visitation from the Noncustodial Parent in Texas: What You Need to Know

Whether you are divorcing in Southlake, Grapevine, Colleyville or another Texas city, divorce is never easy, especially when children are involved. One of the most contentious issues that can arise during a divorce is child custody and visitation rights. When parents separate or divorce, the court may award one parent custody and grant visitation rights to the noncustodial parent. However, what happens when the custodial parent withholds visitation from the noncustodial parent? In Texas, this is a serious issue that can have legal consequences.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s a good idea to withhold visitation of the children over disputes about child support and medical contribution payments. Or because the other parent has a new significant other. In this article, we highlight the various reasons people withhold visitation and the consequences of various conduct. 

A primary parent with more parental rights to make decisions about the child can believe they are doing the right thing in the child’s best interest when they threaten to withhold visitation from the noncustodial parent, and even if they feel justified, the Court and the other parent are often not impressed and find a way to alert the Court, only to find an unhappy judge with co-parents who cannot get along. 

Southlake family lawyer, Leslie Barrows, is frequently asked about what might happen if they withhold visitation. There may be legitimate safety concerns with documentation about the situation. Even if parents believe they are making the right decision, they may be on the hook to defend their actions in Court. 

The Basics of Visitation Rights in Texas

In Texas, the Court typically grants visitation rights to the noncustodial parent unless it would not be in the child's best interest. The parent who is appointed primary conservator with the right to determine the legal residence of the child is also called the primary as well as the custodial parent. 

The Court strongly urges parents to negotiate an agreed settlement where possible, determining issues of custody and visitation rights. These visitation rights can be supervised or unsupervised, and the frequency and duration of the visits can vary depending on the circumstances of the case.

If the custodial parent interferes with the noncustodial parent's visitation rights, this can be considered a violation of the court order. In Texas, the Court takes violations of custody and visitation orders seriously and can impose legal consequences on the offending parent. Being held in contempt of Court will not only cost a parent significant time and resources but sometimes attorney’s fees on both sides. As well it may be difficult to continue with any post-decree matters with the same judge after the parent decided to willfully disregard the orders of the Court. 

Not All Co-Parents or Conservators Were Married

When married couples divorce in Texas and have children, the child custody and visitation issues are determined in the original divorce action. However, if the parents are not married and otherwise have a child together, the parental rights are determined as a matter of law, and issues of parental rights are determined in what is called a SAPCR (suit affecting the parent-child relationship) case. Sometimes the person who has standing to bring a SAPSCR suit for custody is a grandparent or family member with whom the child is primarily being raised. This can also be a sibling. These types of cases are usually seen when CPS (Child Protective Services) removes a child from a parent and places them with a family member. 

Why a Custodial Parent May Withhold Visitation

There are many reasons why a custodial parent may choose to withhold visitation from the noncustodial parent. Some of the most common reasons include:

·        Concerns about the noncustodial parent's ability to provide a safe environment for the child;

·        Concerns about the noncustodial parent's alcohol or drug use;

·        The noncustodial parent is behind on child support payments;

·        The noncustodial parent is not adhering to the visitation schedule or has missed scheduled visits; and/or

·        The child expresses a desire not to visit the noncustodial parent.

While these concerns may be valid, withholding visitation is not always the best course of action. If the custodial parent believes that the child is in danger while in the noncustodial parent's care, they should seek legal remedies to protect the child. This may involve filing for a modification of the custody and visitation order or seeking a protective order.

Legal Consequences of Withholding Visitation

In Texas, violating a custody or visitation order can result in legal consequences. If the Court finds that a custodial parent has willfully violated a court order, they can be held in contempt of court. This can result in fines, jail time, and even a modification of the custody order. Additionally, the custodial parent may be required to pay the noncustodial parent's attorney's fees and court costs.

The Court may also consider the custodial parent's behavior when making future custody and visitation decisions. If the custodial parent has a history of violating the court order, the court may choose to modify the custody arrangement or grant more visitation to the noncustodial parent.

Orders of Protection and Custody Modifications

If something is happening that is so dire that it’s necessary to withhold visitation, the situation might also be an emergency that justifies filing a Petition for an Order of Protection as well as a new suit to Modify Custody. Family violence situations are scary and protecting the children and parents is important. Too often there are substance abuse issues that lead to the breakdown of a parent who makes bad decisions. Read more about these issues in our article, Court Orders and Modifications: Parents Drinking at Home

Parental Perspectives: How Do Mom and Dad Approach Conflict in Custody and Visitation?

When it comes to conflict in custody and visitation, both moms and dads can approach the situation differently. Moms may be more likely to withhold visitation due to concerns about their child's safety or well-being, while dads may be more likely to fight for increased visitation rights. However, these are generalizations, and each parent's approach can vary depending on their circumstances and personalities.

Regardless of their approach, both parents need to prioritize the best interests of their children and work towards a resolution that benefits everyone involved. This may involve seeking legal remedies, such as mediation or a modification of the custody and visitation order, or finding ways to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts amicably. Ultimately, a cooperative and respectful approach is key to navigating conflict in custody and visitation.

Mental and Emotional Consequences to Children When Visitation is Withheld 

Even though parents make significant efforts to protect their children from the parents’ communication about the divorce, custody, and visitation issues, the children may still know something is happening if visitation is suddenly interrupted. How many excuses can someone make about the other parent’s availability, until the child(ren) starts figuring out something else is going on? And when you can anticipate gaslighting from the other parent whose visitation is being withheld, imagine the drama, and you know that kids pick up on that, no matter how hard we try, it can be tough to hide conflict. 

Article Recommendation: Psychologicaland Emotional Aspects of Child Custody Battles and Divorce by Kathie Mathis, Psy.D

What to Do if Visitation is Withheld

If a noncustodial parent's visitation rights are being withheld, there are legal remedies available. The noncustodial parent can file a motion to enforce the custody and visitation order. This motion will ask the court to enforce the existing order and hold the custodial parent in contempt of court for violating the order.

If the custodial parent has violated the order multiple times, the noncustodial parent can file a motion to modify the custody and visitation order. This motion will ask the court to modify the order to grant the noncustodial parent more visitation or even custody of the child.

Withholding visitation from the noncustodial parent can have serious legal consequences in Texas. While there may be valid reasons for withholding visitation, it's important to talk to a family lawyer before doing anything and take good notes of anything that happens that concerns you about your child, the other parent, and the reasons you want to find out about withholding visitation. 

For more information, visit BarrowsFirm.com or call (817) 481-1583.

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