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Child Custody

Will Police Enforce Child Custody?

It’s the subject of movies and TV dramas but all-too-often it’s also the subject of real-life dramas played out in New Mexico family law courtrooms, causing emotional turmoil for countless families.

Sometimes, the “battle” over the children happens not before the court order is issued but after it.

Child custody is frequently a contentious issue in divorce cases but once the matter is settled either through collaboration, mediation, arbitration or litigation, it is assumed that this will be the end of it and everyone will abide by the terms.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

One of the spouses may abuse parental visitation rights. Or the primary custodial parent may discourage the child from seeing their ex-spouse.

What can be done if you find yourself on the receiving end of an ex-spouse who is not holding up his or her end of the deal?

Will the police enforce child custody? Must you go back to court? Or can it be settled peacefully in the best interests of everyone?

It largely depends on how your child custody and visitation agreement was drawn up at the time of your divorce.

How can you enforce a child custody and visitation order?

If your divorce process resulted in a court-ordered parenting agreement, it is legally binding for both parents.

This means that you have more options for taking action to encourage the compliance of the other parent. 

These options include:

  1. Negotiating with the other parent so that you reach an agreement that works better for you all – the best option if you have a relatively amicable relationship with your ex.
  2. Hiring a mediator to help solve the problem amicably.
  3. Ask a judge to turn your new parenting agreement into an enforceable court order.
  4. Reporting the other parent’s actions (or inactions) to the court and asking for enforcement or a revision of the child custody order.
  5. Calling the police or district attorney’s office – is the best option if your child is in imminent danger.

Note that if there is no court-ordered parenting agreement, the police will only intervene if a child is in imminent danger. 

It is more difficult to enforce an agreement that is not court-ordered as going to court to ask for enforcement is not an option for you.

If you have a court order that covers the obligations of each parent, like dropping the child off at home at a certain time on certain days, the police can legally enforce the order. 

The police officer can accompany the complainant to the other parent’s home and demand that the child is returned according to the court order.

In reality, however, most police forces are reluctant to get involved in family matters unless a crime has been committed or there is the imminent threat of a crime being committed (e.g. child abuse or kidnapping).

A parent who believes there is a threat of child abuse can file a Petition for Order of Protection with the courts, explaining why the child is in danger and requesting temporary or permanent sole custody.

If you call the police to enforce a custody or visitation order and your child is not in danger, you may be asked to take the matter up with the court. However, the police will make a report and this should help you when you present your case to the judge.

If, however, you report that your child failed to appear at home hours ago as agreed with the other parent, this may trigger police action because of the potential threat of a crime being committed.

Can you ask a judge to revise or enforce a custody order? 

If you consider that the child custody challenges that you’re facing are serious enough to warrant court intervention, you can prepare the relevant documentary evidence and return to court to plead your case.

Before you do this, though, consider the best interests of the child as this is always paramount in child custody cases.

Assuming that no criminal offense has been committed by the other parent, you essentially have two options:

  1. Ask the judge to review the existing child custody order and parenting plan, including changing who has physical or legal custody (if necessary).
  2. Ask the judge to enforce the existing child custody order.

If you have been negatively impacted by the problems created by the other parent, you can also request that the judge award you extra time with your child to make up for lost days and that the other parent pays your court costs and legal fees.

Modifying child custody arrangements is not a straightforward process. It can be time-consuming and usually requires the assistance of an experienced child custody lawyer.

What happens with serious breaches of child custody orders?

In cases where there have been repeated serious breaches of a child custody order, a parent can ask the judge to hold the other parent in contempt of court for purposefully disregarding the order.

Examples include:

  • Not taking the child to school or to receive medical attention 
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs in front of the child
  • Frequently missing visitation exchanges
  • Interfering with your visitation time

Being held in contempt has serious consequences for the other parent as contempt of court is a sanction that will go on their record and may even lead to time in jail if in front of a judge.

For your request to be heard, you may have to file a pleading called a “motion for an order to show cause”. 

The other parent will then need to demonstrate in court why he or she shouldn’t be held in contempt and the judge will make a decision based on both arguments.

This course of action should only be taken after consulting with your lawyer as it may not be in the best interests of your children, which is the primary concern.

Do you need help with child custody issues?

It is not a legal requirement to hire a lawyer to help you sort out child custody issues.

However, many people are unsure of the laws regarding child custody and it is an emotionally charged subject that often clouds judgements. 

The experienced hand of a lawyer can help guide the best course of action in the best interests of the child. Call the New Mexico Legal Group at 505.876.9175 or get started with a free case evaluation.

If you have reason to believe that your child is in danger, call the  National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 24-hour hotline: 1-800-843-5678.