Can you hold your ex-spouse in contempt if they are not allowing parenting time with your child? The answer is, it really all depends on your specific situation and the parameters of the parenting plan. A person cannot be held in contempt if there is not a clear court order, or an order is ambiguous. An example of an ambiguous court order would say something like, “the Parties agree to facilitate parenting time in the best interest of the child” or “as the parties agree.” This happens far less frequently in today’s family law realm, as courts have changed rules that provide for a more detailed and set parenting schedule.
Parents who are not seeing their children when they want may come back to court to ask the judge to hold the other parent in contempt. In order for a judge to do so, there has to be a clear order detailing the schedule and what exact behavior and actions are expected of each parent. You have to be able to assess a tangible violation of the order. If a parenting agreement does not address an issue at all, for example which parent drops of the child for each scheduled parenting exchange, then there can be no violation, and therefore no contempt.
Secondly, the judge will need to assess whether a parent was willful in their failure to comply with a court order. Once the court finds there is a clear and unambiguous order, there are two elements for contempt. First that there was a violation of said order and second that the violation of the order was a “willful” failure to comply. If a court believes there was a good reason for the willful violation, then no contempt can be found. However, if the court doesn’t believe there is a valid or asserted reasoning for the willful violation, then the Court can find that parent in contempt. If a child refuses to go to the scheduled parenting time with the other parent, contempt proceedings become more challenging.
Keeping a log of all missed parenting time can help when asking the Court for contempt, but do not wait to bring this to your attorney and/or the Court’s attention months after the fact. Additionally, if a parenting plan is not working for you, or you believe a better schedule can be in place, do not violate it. Request a modification from the Court first or a clarification in Parenting Plan if it is too ambiguous.
If you are dealing with a similar issue please contact our office to schedule a consultation.