First, you may call the police if your ex-spouse doesn’t allow you to see the child. However, if your ex prevented your visit for a valid reason, then the obstruction of parenting time may be justified. Second, know that calling the police can increase the bad blood between you and your ex and cause a lot of stress to your child – therefore, when your ex stops your visit, you should call the police only when the child is in imminent danger, unless instructed otherwise by your attorney.
This answer may seem simple, but there are many permutations to it. Here is a primer that can help you understand them:
Parenting Time Interference
A parenting plan is approved by the courts and it must be complied with. The plan specifies which parent gets the sole, primary, joint, or split custody, the type of custody each parent gets (legal or physical), and the visitation rights of the noncustodial parent. When one parent stops the other from seeing the child, directly or indirectly, according to the terms of the court-approved parenting plan, parenting time interference is said to occur.
There is an exception to the rule though. If your ex is aware that your visiting or meeting the child will put the child’s physical or emotional well-being in danger, then he/she may be able to stop you from visiting/meeting the child. For example, if you arrive at your ex’s door carrying firearms or in an inebriated state, demanding to pick up your child, your ex can stop you from meeting your child, and it will likely be regarded as a valid refusal.
So, when your ex is aware or witnesses that the child is in imminent danger (of kidnap, threats, etc.), or when the situation is not under control (for example, dangerous weather, manmade or natural calamity, etc.), he/she may be able to obstruct your visit.
However, when the child does not face any risk in meeting you and your ex-spouse has no valid reason to deny you visitation rights, then any obstruction amounts to a violation of the parenting plan. The dilemma you may face in such a situation is whether to call the police or seek legal help.
Can Your Ex-Spouse Stop Your Visit if He/She “Suspects” That You Will Neglect or Abuse the Child?
Unless your ex-spouse witnesses or is aware of the harm that you are going to cause to the child, he/she cannot obstruct your visit. Even if your ex-spouse just suspects neglect or abuse, but is not aware of any imminent danger, he/she cannot stop your visit based on just suspicion alone. There must be good evidence of an imminent threat of harm.
Should You Call the Police When Your Ex-Spouse Obstructs You From Visiting Your Child?
When your ex-spouse has violated the parenting plan and your child’s safety or well-being is not in imminent danger, you should consider holding off on calling the police and try and resolve the situation by making your ex see reason. Involving the police can aggravate matters and lead to complications going forward.
However, if your ex allows the visit only after you reason with him/her, it may embolden him/her to stop you again. Therefore, it makes sense to view the obstruction as a red flag and seek legal counsel to remedy the situation.
If you suspect that your visit was stopped because your ex-spouse kidnapped the child or has placed the child in harm’s way, you should call the police.
After filing a police complaint, or even after reasoning with your ex-spouse, you should ask your family law attorney to intervene and resolve the situation.
Legal Solutions to Parenting Time Interference/Visitation Obstruction Situations
Here are the situations you can encounter after your ex-spouse obstructs your visit:
- You filed a police complaint because you suspected your ex kidnapped the child or placed the child in harm’s way.
- You reasoned with your ex and after that he/she allows you to visit and meet the child, but you believe that he/she may create visitation-related problems going forward.
- You were unsuccessful in reasoning with your spouse and could not meet your child.
Your attorney is likely to present you with a few legal options. For example:
In situations (1) and (3), you can file a motion with the courts requesting the police to enforce the parenting plan. Depending on the severity and immediacy of the harm, the motion might be an emergency motion. If there is no immediate likelihood of severe harm, it will be a regular (non-emergency) motion.
In all the situations above, and depending on the circumstances of the case, you can move the court to:
- Order extra parenting time that makes up for the time you lost.
- Make your ex-spouse pay for counseling.
- Impose penalties on your ex-spouse, and make him/her pay your court costs and attorney fees.
- Review the parenting plan and modify it because of your ex-spouse’s unreasonable behavior.
- Award jail time to your ex-spouse, in extreme situations.
In mild cases, the matter can be resolved with the help of a mediator.
- If your ex-spouse denied you visitation rights because he/she was aware that harm would be inflicted on the child, then he/she has a valid reason to stop your child from seeing you. You may file a police complaint, but if your ex petitions the court, it can work against you.
- If the visit was stopped despite your posing no danger to the child, it is better to consult your attorney and get him/her to file for contempt and review of the parenting plan instead of calling the police.
- If you suspect that your visit was stopped because your ex-spouse had kidnapped the child or put the child in a dangerous situation, you should call the police and ask your attorney to initiate legal proceedings against your ex.
Note that you should not stop child support payments or forcibly take the child away with you if your visitation rights were denied. That might put you on the wrong side of the law.