Child Custody | Family
Can a Mother Stop a Father From Seeing His Child?
by Philip Ahn, Attorney
Parents do not always agree when it comes to issues regarding their children, and things can get very contentious during divorce or separation. However, a mother can only stop a father from seeing his child in very limited circumstances.
A parent might believe they have the right to “gatekeep” the other from seeing their child. But this is rarely the case, and the decision to do so can have serious and long-lasting consequences. A lawyer can help you understand and enforce your rights.
State laws generally require both parents to be allowed reasonable visitation with their children unless visitation with one parent or the other is not in the children’s best interest. Whenever a parent’s rights to custody or visitation are in question, the terms set forth in a legally binding, court-ordered custody and visitation arrangement, if there is one, become very important.
Whenever there is no court-approved custody order in place, parents have equal rights to custody of their children. The court expects the custodial parent to do what is reasonable to make a child available to the non-custodial parent at the times agreed upon in their custody arrangement.
A mother’s unilateral decision to refuse a father visitation with his child, or to keep the child away from him without legitimate grounds to do so, could harm her right to custody and visitation when the matter finally goes before a judge.
Under What Circumstances Can a Child’s Mother Stop a Father from Seeing His Child?
A mother only has grounds to stop a father from seeing his child if they can prove the father is unfit for visitation due to one or more of the following issues:
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Child abuse or neglect
- Domestic violence
- Mental illness, and/or
- Continued criminal activity that affects his ability to care for the child
Proof of one or more of these issues can result in the court denying the father visitation. But the evidence must be clear and convincing to indicate that any visitation with the father would be contrary to the child’s best interest.
When there is sufficient proof, a father’s visitation rights can be revoked, or limited to supervised visitation, depending on what the judge believes is in the child’s best interest.
Sometimes a child may not want to visit a parent, even when there is no question regarding the parent’s fitness. So, while the custodial parent is required to do whatever is reasonable to comply with custody arrangements, that does not include forcing a child to visit the other parent against their will.
What to Do if Your Child’s Mother Stops You From Seeing Your Child
So you have a child with someone you are not in a relationship with, and you want to be involved in that child’s life as their father. But the child’s mother is stopping you from seeing the child. She is either insisting that you have absolutely no involvement in your child’s life or that she controls your involvement, and will only allow visitation on her terms and under her supervision. In other words, she doesn’t really want you to have anything to do with your child.
So, what do you do?
1. Keep Detailed Records
Documenting what happens between you, the other parent, and your child will establish facts for a judge. It will also help you measure and improve your involvement. Start logging the dates, times, and details of every action that you take to be involved in your child’s life, including:
- Attempts to call or visit your child
- Email correspondences
- Text messages
- Conversations you have had with your child’s mother, especially where you have been denied the right to see or access information related to your child
This way, when the court wants to know what has been happening with your case, you will have detailed information to provide. You’ll also show how important that involvement is to you, which makes it more difficult for the other party to credibly cast doubt on your character.
2. Obtain a Custody Order
If you have not already done so, obtain some form of child custody and visitation order. This can be a one or two-step process, depending on whether you already have a case open in the courts.
If you already have a case open in court but have not obtained a custody order (perhaps you are going through a divorce and have yet to make child custody arrangements, or because you have just established that you are the father of the child, and you are still in the process of seeking custody or visitation), then the next step is to go to court and request specific orders for custody.
On the other hand, if you do not have a case open at all, then you first need to open one to establish that you are the father and have the right to some form of custody and visitation. Once you have obtained a legally binding custody order, you will have something on paper and in writing that is easily enforceable.
3. Get the Police Involved if Necessary
If you have a legally binding custody order, and your child’s mother still refuses to allow you to see your child, go to the police station closest to where your custody exchanges should take place, and file a police report. Then, ask the law enforcement officers if they would be willing to escort you to pick up your child for custody or visitation and enforce your child custody order for you.
If the officers are willing (and they typically will be when you have your court order in hand), they will go along with you and explain to your child’s mother that she must comply with your court-ordered custody arrangement, and that she could face criminal prosecution if she does not.
Often, the mother will then relent and allow you to visit your child. But you must make sure to return the child to the mother, and that you do not keep the child longer than agreed.
4. File a Contempt Action
Another way to enforce court-ordered custody and visitation arrangements is to file a contempt action with the court. Violating a court order is a crime that can be penalized by high fines and fees, and even jail time. Judges put custody and visitation orders in place to bring order to custody arrangements, and they do not take it lightly when a parent disregards a court order. So if your child’s mother continues to violate your court-ordered custody arrangement, she could face serious repercussions.
5. Request a Modification of Your Custody Order
If you already have court-ordered custody arrangements in place, you can ask the court to modify them. Judges like to put a child in the custody of the parent who is more likely to facilitate their relationship with the other parent. Courts want children to be involved in both parents’ lives, frequently and continually. So, if you are constantly being denied visitation or custody, you may have grounds to ask the judge for even more time with your child.
It is important to ask the court to modify your order so there is no room for it to be misinterpreted. That means including specific details regarding issues like, who gets the child on certain holidays, school days, weekends, and whatever else might cause a dispute between you and the child’s mother. This way, if you have to involve law enforcement, they will have no doubts as to what is supposed to happen with regard to your custody or visitation arrangements.
6. Hire a Qualified Family Law Lawyer to Help You
If you are having trouble seeing your children, consult an experienced family law lawyer to determine your options. Modifying and enforcing court-ordered custody and visitation arrangements can be difficult without the help of a qualified lawyer.
Our network of family law lawyers has the experience and sensitivity needed to handle significant child custody or visitation rights issues, and we are ready to help your family today. Contact us for the help you need.
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