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When Can You Deny Visitation to the Non-Custodial Parent in North Carolina?

A mother playing with her child

Child custody and visitation rights are important legal matters that need to be handled with the best interests of children in mind. Of course, each parent in the divorce proceeding loves their child and wants what is best for them. At the same time, it’s natural for parents to want to see their children as often as possible.

When custody can be worked out amicably, or both parents abide by the visitation schedule, there may not be many issues. Problems can arise, however, when the parent with primary custody denies visitation to the parent with secondary custody.

As with other areas of family law, denying child visitation is a matter that is best resolved through legal channels. In this post, we will look at denial of visitation rights, how the rights are established, when they might be taken away, and what you can do if you need to have your child visitation rights restored.

Can a Custodial Parent Deny Visitation to the Other Parent?

A child waving good-bye to a parent

Parents don’t always see eye-to-eye on raising their children, and things can become more contentious when divorce is on the table. One parent might wish to refuse the other parent’s visitation rights in certain circumstances, but it should not be a decision they make lightly.

Disobeying a visitation order can have serious consequences with long-lasting repercussions—for both sides. For one thing, it can land the parent who disobeys the order in jail for contempt. Separated parents should strongly consider getting legal advice before acting. A family law attorney can help them understand the law before they make up their mind.

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What Does Visitation Mean?

A parent on the phone while holding a child

While you could liberally apply the term “visitation” to spending any time with a child when the parents are no longer together, it’s important to understand the context here in North Carolina. There are many terms that may be applied to a custody arrangement, such as primary/secondary custody, primary custody/visitation, equal custody, or joint custody. What really matters is the schedule that is in the order.

Child Custody Orders Determine Custody/Visitation Rights

Child custody rights are determined once there is a custody order in place that outlines the custody terms:

  • Legal custody: A important facet of child custody is the ability for one parent to make major decisions about a child’s life, like where they go to school or whether to undergo a major medical procedure.
  • Physical custody: The other important piece of custody is which parent the child lives with on a day-to-day basis.

Parents can have a mixture of legal custody rights and physical custody rights.

North Carolina law requires reasonable visitation unless the non-custodial parent is unfit, or contact with that parent is not in the child’s best interests. If you have questions about your options, an experienced family law attorney can help you understand what might be the best path forward for you.

RELATED: Denied Child Custody or Visitation? Here’s What to Do

Both Parents Have Equal Rights to the Child Until a Court Order Is in Place

When there is no established custody order, North Carolina views biological parents as having equal rights to the custody of the child. This means either parent can legally go where they want with their child.

However, it’s important to note that deciding to cut off visitation without proof of dire circumstances, or taking the child away from the other parent without a valid reason, could potentially harm a parent’s request for custody when the matter comes up in a judicial proceeding.

What Happens When One Parent Refuses Child Visitation for the Other Parent?

A parent meeting with a lawyer about child custody

Once a child custody order is in place, there can be legal repercussions for denying visitation terms. Deliberately ignoring the set terms of the order, like visitation schedules or locations, can cause a judge to find a parent in contempt of court. The penalties that come from this can include fines, community service, and even jail time.

Not every case will lead to a finding of contempt, but it isn’t always easy to tell where a situation will take you, especially without proper legal counsel.

Child Support Can Be a Possible Factor

While falling short on child support payments is a serious matter, it does not cancel out a court order for custody or visitation. In fact, withholding visitation time when one party fails to pay child support could still result in a finding of contempt of court for the custodial parent. Just because one parent violates a part of the order does not give the other parent the right to violate the order.

Because there are ways to go through the courts to handle past-due child support, a parent taking matters into their own hands could have serious consequences. So, as a general rule, the best practice is almost always to have such issues addressed by the appropriate authorities.

If you would prefer not to risk jeopardizing your visitation rights and would like guidance for this kind of situation, you can always seek counsel from an experienced family law attorney.

Custody Is Granted for the Sake of the Child

In some instances, the core issue is not that a custodial parent refuses to allow child visitation. Rather, the child may not want to spend time with the non-custodial parent, even when dangerous circumstances aren’t at play.

The court expects the custodial parent to do what is reasonable to make a child available at the time stated in the custody order. However, what is reasonable depends greatly on the circumstances. The age of the child is one major factor.

Are There Ever Times When Refusal of Child Visitation Is a Valid Option?

If a custody order is already in place, a parent likely doesn’t have firm legal standing to deny visitation on their own. But if there is valid and substantial risk or dangerous conditions that threaten the wellbeing of the child, then a parent has a legal right to seek immediate help.

It’s Important to Know When There’s Enough Evidence

Fast action could be taken if the non-custodial parent poses risk to a child’s health and safety, but a judge will need to see proof to make the decision on visitation or custodial rights. Signs of a troubled parent may include:

  • Patterns of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Domestic violence or physical abuse
  • Evidence of child neglect or emotional abuse
  • Mental illness that threatens the safety of the child
  • Frequent criminal trouble that impairs their ability to care for the child

In such cases, proving one (or more) of these issues can potentially lead the court to put safety parameters on visitation rights. For that to happen, the evidence must show impact on the child. As an example, if a non-custodial parent is facing criminal charges for tax evasion, it might be difficult to build a case that the court should deny child visitation.

If the court believes there is sufficient proof of a dangerous environment, the judge may revoke custody rights or order supervised visitation, depending on the circumstances and child’s best interests.

Myers Law Firm: Legal Representation for Complex Family Matters

No matter if you believe your ex should no longer have visitation rights, or you are the one being denied time with your child, it is best to consult with an experienced family law attorney to determine your options. Taking matters into your own hands, such as refusing visitation or not abiding by a court order, can lead to major problems.

A better approach is to reach out to a practice like Myers Law Firm. We have more than 60 years of combined experience handling sensitive and significant family law matters just like this for clients in North Carolina. If you need legal counsel, we’re ready to help you and your family today.

To contact us and request a free consultation, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at (888) 376-2889 or fill out this brief form. Either way, we will be glad to hear your side and help you understand your legal options.


Child Custody. North Carolina Judicial Branch. Retrieved from https://www.nccourts.gov/help-topics/family-and-children/child-custody

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.2 (2020)

Separation and Divorce. North Carolina Judicial Branch. Retrieved from https://www.nccourts.gov/help-topics/divorce/separation-and-divorce

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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