What To Do When the Other Parent Withholds Your Child

When exes have a strained relationship, some resort to withholding their child to punish the other parent. They may not realize this decision is inappropriate co-parenting and could harm their child.

Other parents withhold visits because they believe visits would put the child in danger. They may not know this behavior could jeopardize their custodial rights.

If your child is being withheld, the actions you must take to see your child again depend on whether you have a court order and whether you're the custodial or noncustodial parent.

The time you spend with your child is precious. Preserve your right to see your child by working with the other parent or going to court.

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When there's no custody agreement

If there's no custody order, you have few options to address the issue of the other parent withholding your child.

Some parents assume they'll get along well enough to handle visitation without a formal custody agreement. They might even put something in writing, not knowing that it isn't legally enforceable until approved by a court.

While this may work at first, things tend to break down. Without a court-ordered visitation schedule, there's no responsibility to allow visits or to return the child; the parent who has the child always has the upper hand.

When things go sour, start building a custody case. Gather proof of times the other parent took the child away from you unreasonably, and contact a lawyer who can guide you on what steps to take.

Regardless of how well you get along with your ex, you should have a custody order. It'll hold both parents to the same standards and give you a way to remedy visitation disagreements.

Getting a child back from a noncustodial parent

As the custodial parent must allow visitation, the noncustodial parent must return the child once their court-ordered visitation time is over.

Before you take action to get your child back from the noncustodial parent, consider the severity of their lateness. If it's common for them to be 30 minutes or even a few hours late returning the child, adjusting the visitation schedule could be enough to fix the issue. So you know they aren't taking your child, you could include a term in your parenting plan that states you have the right to know where your child is during visits.

If the noncustodial parent is withholding your child from you, it is parental kidnapping. Call the police to report it. They could send out an Amber Alert to locate your child, and the parent will be arrested.

When a custodial parent denies visitation

The custodial parent cannot deny visitation time ordered by the court — even if the noncustodial parent misses child support payments. Denying visits could lead to a contempt charge or even loss of custody.

If you're denied visits, you can either go to court or find another way to resolve the issue. Act quickly so your child doesn't become distant.

For a court case, you'll need solid evidence. Keep track of denied visits, print records of communication and put any requests for makeup time in writing to show you made the effort. Don't stop making child support payments in retaliation, as this could hurt your case.

A lawyer could send a letter warning the custodial parent that you're willing to go to court over the denied visitation. Often this convinces the parent to allow visits in order to avoid court.

Mediation is a popular alternative to court. Put any agreement you reach in mediation into writing and submit it to the court so it can be made into an official order.

Moving the child out of state with no agreement

Moving out of state with the child without agreement from the other parent is not recommended. It could be a crime if you have a custody order.

If you're the custodial parent, you must start a relocation case, and the judge will decide whether to allow the move.

Some states don't have formal rules for what happens when a parent moves a child without a court order. Research your state's custody laws or contact a lawyer before moving.

If you believe the parent will take your child out of state without your permission, ask for an emergency custody order.

When there's reason to withhold visitation

Sometimes, there's justification for withholding your child from another parent. But you must do it legally.

If you suspect that the parent is abusing your child or endangering your child's well-being, file a petition for emergency custody with the court. If the court considers your concerns valid, it will put a stop visitation or put limits on visitation, at least temporarily.

If the child is in immediate danger, call the police.

The tools you need for a high-conflict custody case

A comprehensive parenting plan and detailed parenting time schedule are musts for high-conflict cases, especially when parental kidnapping is a risk. But creating a plan and schedule on your own can feel overwhelming.

Let technology take the guesswork out of the equation.

The Custody X Change app walks you through each step of creating a parenting plan. With it, you can easily build a parenting time schedule from templates or from scratch.

Additionally, the many co-parenting features — the messaging center, parenting journal, parenting time tracker and more — help you stay organized and document everything you need for any potential returns to court.

Custody X Change is the easiest, most reliable way to ensure your ex can't withhold your child from you.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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Explore examples of common schedules

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Organize your evidence

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Succeed by negotiating

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