Enforcing Custody and Child Support Orders

Ideally, parents follow their custody orders (often called parenting plans) and child support orders to the letter. If they don't, they can face serious repercussions.

You have three options for getting the other parent to comply with custody orders: work with the parent, go to court or call the police. Speak to a lawyer if you aren't sure how to proceed or whether the other parent is violating orders.

If you have an unofficial agreement with the other parent, file it with the court and have a judge sign off to make it enforceable as a court order.

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Note that laws and procedures vary somewhat by state. For information specific to the largest U.S. states, see our guides to enforcing custody orders in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Work with the other parent

If possible, reach out to the other parent before escalating the situation. Send a letter via certified mail or message the other parent on Custody X Change (so you'll have evidence). Inform them that they are violating an order and how they can remedy the situation. Your lawyer can help with this.

Do not retaliate if the other parent doesn't follow their part of the order. You'll need to show you can handle your responsibilities.

Parents can agree to modify an order to help them follow it. The court has final say and usually only approves modifications when a family has had a significant change in circumstances.

Some states require parents to try mediation or another alternative dispute resolution method before returning to court, and parents can always do this voluntarily. The mediator or other third party in charge will help them work through the issues preventing them from complying with orders.

Go to court

When a parent continually struggles to follow custody or support orders, going to court may be the best way to get them back on track.

Typically, this means seeking a contempt of court charge against them. Speak to a lawyer before filing for contempt, as these cases are often criminal proceedings.

At the contempt hearing, both parents can make arguments and present evidence. Bring a custody journal detailing all infractions, a report of extra or denied parenting time and anything else that supports your case.

The judge will make a ruling at the end of the hearing. In very serious cases, they may order jail time; otherwise, a number of repercussions (detailed below) are possible.

Call the police

Authorities hesitate to get involved if there hasn't been a crime, but police can enforce child custody when necessary.

However, police can only enforce a custody order's terms. For example, if you want to know where your child is during a visit but your court order doesn't give you that right, there's nothing the police can do.

Police are most likely to enforce custody in emergency circumstances, like the other parent withholding your child from you. In this case, a police officer could escort you to the other parent's home or call the other parent and demand they return the child.

In some states, such as Virginia, anyone who "knowingly, wrongfully, and intentionally" violates a custody order can be charged with a misdemeanor. Punishments include fines and changes to the custody order. Repeat offenders or those found guilty of parental kidnapping can face prison time.

Even if your child's other parent is not charged with a crime, a police report can serve as proof of the interference with the custody order if you go to court.

Differences for child support enforcement

Child support violations are separate legal issues from custody violations. Even if the other parent denies you your time with the child, you must pay support as ordered. Furthermore, a judge will not eliminate parenting time for a parent who fails to pay child support.

All states have child support enforcement programs, often within a human services department. If you don't receive child support as ordered by the court, reach out to your local enforcement program.

Continue to follow all custody and support orders while trying to get the other parent to comply.

Consequences of not following custody and support orders

When a parent doesn't follow court orders, consequences vary based on the state and the severity of the violation.

For custody violations, repercussions may include:

  • Paying fines
  • Covering the other parent's legal fees
  • Giving the other parent makeup time with the child
  • Losing custody of the child
  • Going to jail

Child support violations might result in the following repercussions:

  • Extra charges
  • Garnishment of tax refunds
  • Issuance of a lien or levy against property or assets
  • Denial, revocation or suspension of licenses for driving, hunting, etc.
  • Denial or revocation of a passport

Staying in compliance with court orders

When a court issues orders, it's essential you follow them. But they can be tough to decipher, especially orders for parenting time. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day is considered the middle of winter break?

Use Custody X Change to transform your orders into a calendar you can edit and print, so you'll never have to wonder whether you're staying in compliance.

Take advantage of our technology, and rest assured that you're interpreting the court's orders correctly.

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Long distance schedules

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Summer break

Parenting provisions


How to make a schedule

Factors to consider

Parenting plans:

Making a parenting plan

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Interstate, long distance

Temporary plans

Guides by location:

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Scheduling guidelines

Child support calculators

Age guidelines:

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3 to 5 years

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