Visitation, known in Arizona as Parenting Time, is a significant focus in child custody cases.
While most people want to exercise their parental rights to see their children as much as possible, there are times when a parent will not pick their children up when they are court-ordered to do so.
While it is unlikely that a judge would force a parent to spend time with their child, the Superior Court does expect both parents to follow the parenting plan.
If either parent does not comply with the visitation order, there are consequences.
Why is Parenting Time Important?
Parenting time is vital to the well-being of everyone involved in a child custody case. Children benefit from knowing when they will see both of their parents. And it gives them the security of knowing where they will be each day.
Furthermore, following the custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child because children who spend time with both parents have higher self-esteem, and they are more confident as adolescents, teens, and adults.
That is why it is significant to decide on a visitation schedule (known as a Parenting Plan) during the divorce process.
For parents, a parenting plan is also essential because it allows you to work, have personal time, and handle personal affairs without your children around.
Visitation Rights in Arizona
All Arizona parents must attend a parenting class to gain tools to help them co-parent with their ex-spouse. The class also teaches about the importance of both parents being a positive presence in the child’s life
As part of the divorce proceedings, the judge will ask the parents to submit a parenting plan that outlines a reasonable visitation schedule.
The judge will ensure the parenting plan and visitation schedule are in the best interests of the child. Often, parents exercise an equal parenting time (or visitation) schedule. In this case, neither parent is designated as a primary residential parent because the parents equally share parenting time.
Sometimes, one parent receives “physical custody of the child.” In some states, this parent is referred to as the custodial parent. But Arizona does not use the terms: custody, physical custody, or custodial parent. Rather, as discussed in other articles on our website, Arizona uses the term Parenting Time in place of Physical Custody.
In a situation where there is an unequal division of parenting time, the parent who is awarded the larger share of parenting time is often designated as the primary residential parent.
The parent who resides outside of the child’s main home is referred to as the non-residential or non-custodial parent in other jurisdictions.
If possible, judges like to allow both parents to work together to develop a plan that works for their family. Included in the parenting plan is the visitation schedule, which outlines when the child will be with each parent.
Unless there are fitness concerns with one parent or one parent is unable to care for the child during certain times, parents generally share equal parenting time.
The parenting time is outlined in the parties’ Parenting Plan-or visitation agreement-which is adopted as a court order when it has been approved by the court. And once the visitation agreement becomes an order of the court, the parents can face legal issues if they do not abide by the agreement.
Child Visitation Violations
The visitation schedule is enacted by the family court through a custody order, known as the Parenting Plan in Arizona.
The custody order must be approved by a judge to determine if it contains a reasonable visitation schedule that makes it easy to co-parent and is in the child’s best interest. Once the custody order is in place, both parents are expected to abide by the visitation schedule.
When a non-residential parent does not pick up the child for their court-ordered visitation, it is challenging for the residential parent and the child.
Absent parents negatively impact the mental health of their children. It is scary waiting for your parent to arrive.
Every minute the child waits seems like a lifetime, and after feeling sad, scared, and angry, they wonder why their parent did not show up. The child then has to live with the damage throughout their life, and it can show up as a mental illness.
When a non-custodial parent leaves the child at school, a friend’s house, or an extracurricular activity, the other parent often has no choice but to drop what they are doing to pick up the child.
It can be extremely stressful and embarrassing to have to leave work early because your child has been left somewhere.
Making Up Missed Visits
The judge can handle missed parenting time in many ways. The judge will always consider what is in the best interest of the child. If a parent misses visitation and wishes to make up those visits, a judge may approve.
However, depending on the reasons why the parenting time was missed in the first place, the request may be denied.
If you are the residential parent and make up parenting time is requested, always keep in mind what is best for the child, reasonableness, and co-parenting. Remember, life happens and things come up.
So long as it is not a constant issue, parents should do everything they can to work together in the best interests of the child.
If you are the non-residential parent, it is best to exercise your visits at the scheduled time if possible. If the current schedule is no longer feasible and you are missing parenting time because of it, you should discuss the situation with an attorney as it may be appropriate to modify the current schedule.
Additionally, if you continually fail to exercise parenting time, it could have a negative impact on your future parenting time.
Court Actions for Visitation Violations
There are several ways a judge could handle visitation violations. The method of handling the breach of the visitation order depends on the severity of the violation, how many times the parent has skipped visitation, and the best interests of the child.
Unfortunately, a judge can’t force someone to want to be a parent. And usually will not “force” someone to spend time with their child. However, there could be some consequences if a parent does not follow the visitation schedule.
Some of the actions a judge could take when a parent violates the visitation order are:
- Ordering the parent to attend and pay for parenting classes
- Ordering the parent to attend and pay for family counseling
- Imposing a fee of to be paid to the custodial parent each time the parent is absent or late for scheduled visitations
- Modifying the custody agreement and/or limiting the parent’s access to the child
- Ordering the parents to attend mediation to resolve issues at the expense of the violating party
- Order the parent to complete a “book report” on a topic of the judge believes appropriate
Court Actions for Repeat Visitation Violations
If a parent continues to violate the visitation order, a judge may take more drastic measures. In fact, they could lose their parental time all together.
That’s right, a parent’s rights may be significantly limited if they continue to fail to abide by the court order and continue to fail to exercise parenting time.
Additionally, if the parent has been absent from the child’s life for too long, the parent may be ordered to participate in Therapeutic Intervention if they wish to get involved in the child’s life.
Child Visitation and Child Support
Visitation and child support payments are separate matters. Regardless of whether or not the non-custodial parent is adhering to the child support order, if they want to exercise their parenting time as ordered, it is against the law for the custodial parent to deny them the right to do so as it would be a violation of the court order.
Likewise, if a parent is unable to pay child support at some point, they should still be allowed to see their child during the scheduled times.
What to Do if the Non-Custodial Parent Misses Visitation Time
As the residential parent, often referred to as the custodial parent with physical custody of the child in other jurisdictions, there are some things you need to do to protect yourself if the other parent is not following the visitation schedule.
You need to make sure your child’s school or child care center has a copy of the court order and the contact information (including phone number) for the non-residential parent.
If the child is not picked up on time, the school should contact the appropriate parent first. You should also keep detailed notes regarding missed visitation. If you are unable to agree with the non-custodial parent, you need to petition the court to take action on your case.
Your child deserves to be able to rely on the parenting time schedule. If one parent cannot exercise the time as ordered, then it likely should be modified. Additionally, while child support and parenting time are separate issues, the amount of parenting time exercised plays a part in how much child support is ordered.
If the other parent is constantly missing their parenting time and you are caring for the child more, a modification of the child support order may be appropriate.
When you find yourself in a situation where the other parent is not following the parenting plan, including the visitation schedule, you should speak to a family law attorney to explore modification options.
A Final Word on Non-Custodial Parent Visitation Violations
Co-parenting can be tough, especially if your ex-spouse does not follow the visitation order.
As the custodial parent, it is understandable to be stressed when the non-custodial parent doesn’t pick up the children.
However, it is vital to remain calm even when your ex-spouse misses a scheduled visitation time.
After going through divorce proceedings, you may not want to have to return to court. However, it might be necessary to have the child custody and visitation agreement updated to protect you and your child’s physical and mental well-being.
If you are having issues with the non-custodial parent’s visitation, contact an attorney to discuss the steps you can take.