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Can the Parent With Custody Refuse Visitation?

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

Disobeying a visitation order can have serious consequences with long-lasting repercussions for either side. Estranged 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.

Does Any Time With a Parent Count as Visitation?

While you could liberally apply the term “visitation” to spending time with a child during or after a divorce, it’s important to understand the legal definition in North Carolina.

Custody Agreements Can Determine Visitation

Official child visitation doesn’t officially come into play until there is a custody order that outlines custody terms:

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

When one parent has sole legal custody, they are considered the custodial parent. The other parent, the non-custodial parent, usually can see their child regularly. North Carolina law requires reasonable visitation unless a parent is unfit or contact with the parent is not in the child’s best interest, but it’s essential to know when the terms are legally binding. If you have questions about your options, an experienced family law attorney can help.

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 custody order in place, North Carolina views biological parents as having equal rights to the custody of the child. Either parent can go where they want with the child. However, deciding to cut off visitation without proof of dire circumstances or taking the child away from the other parent without a valid reason could harm a parent’s request for custody when the matter does appear before a judge.

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What Happens When One Parent Refuses?

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

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 legal counsel.

Child Support Is Related, but Not Intertwined

While coming up short on child support payments is a serious matter, it’s doesn’t cancel out a court order for custody or visitation. Withholding parenting time when one party fails to pay child support could still result in a finding of contempt of court.

There are ways to go through the courts to handle past-due child support payments, but a parent taking things into their own hands could have serious consequences.

Custody Is Usually for the Sake of the Child, Not the Parent

A child may not want to visit a 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 arrangement, but that doesn’t often include forcing a child to visit against their will. When the child makes the decision and not the parent, it may not classify as a denial of visitation rights. However, these are very fact-specific incidents that you should discuss with an attorney.

Are There Ever Times When Refusal Is an Option?

If a custody order is already in place, a parent likely doesn’t have firm legal standing to deny visitation on their own. However, if dangerous conditions that threaten the well-being of the child exist, then the parent could seek immediate help.

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

Fast action could be possible if a child is in danger, but a judge will need to see proof to make the decision. Showing a troubled parent includes:

  • Patterns of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Evidence of child neglect or abuse
  • History of domestic violence
  • Records of mental illness
  • Frequent criminal trouble that impacts the ability to care for the child

Proving one or more of these issues can lead the court to deny visitation time, but the evidence must show the impact on the child. The judge may revoke custody or order supervised visitation if the proof is sufficient, depending on the child’s best interest.

Myers Law Firm Can Help Through Complex Family Matters

Refusing visitation in the face of parental rights can is a serious matter. It is best to consult an experienced family law attorney to determine your options.

Myers Law Firm has over 60 years of combined experience handling sensitive and significant family law matters for clients in North Carolina, and we’re ready to help your family today.

Contact us by completing this brief form or calling (888) 376-2889 to schedule a free consultation.

References

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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