Written by attorney Charla Elizabeth Lenz

Do you know the Consequences of not following your Custody Order?

Occasionally, parties to a custody order will decide that the custody order no longer fits their current needs and circumstances. Those parties will then agree on a new custody arrangement that does not follow their custody order. Often, these parents who agree on a new custody arrangement are unaware of the consequences of their decision to subvert their custody order for a new, undocumented agreement. Whether your custody order arose because two parents could not come to an agreement, or because one parent was found by the court to be a danger to the welfare of a child; it is always best to abide by the terms of a custody order and to officially modify the custody order to reflect any custody agreements that are made. The following are possible consequences of ignoring the terms of a custody order and making other arrangements that do not conform to the terms of the custody order.

  • Parents who enter into an agreement, may later decide that they want to break the agreement. This usually occurs when the parents agree, then one refuses to follow the agreement. If this happens, both parents would ideally resume using their custody order. However, a broken agreement generally turns into broken trust and does not improve the ongoing relationship between the parents for the sake children involved. In bad situations, a parent may involve the police in order to enforce the custody order, even though the parents had made other custody arrangements by agreement. Only a custody order can be enforced, so if a custody agreement is made apart from a custody order, it cannot be enforced. By modifying your custody order to reflect the terms of your new custody agreement, there is less possibility of a misunderstanding, or broken agreement.

  • Parents who enter into an agreement, may later be forced to continue that agreement even if it is no longer desirable. This usually happens when, under the court order, one parent has more custodial time with the children but needs time away from the child(ren) and agrees to allow the other parent to have more access to the child(ren). An example of this is when there is a custody agreement that allows one parent more access to the child(ren) than the custody order previously allowed. If one parent wishes to continue having increased access to the child(ren), that parent may petition the court for a modification of the custody order to reflect the true amount of time and control the parents have under the custody agreement. By not following the custody agreement, the parents have shown the court that they really do not want the previous custody order, what they truly want is custody as they have agreed. It is difficult to convince the court that you want to keep the previously ordered custody terms, when you have ignored that custody order and made a different custody arrangement.

  • Parents who enter into an agreement, may later be faced with criminal charges if their agreement has endangered their child(ren) and the court order tried to specifically prevent the endangerment of the child(ren). This may happen when one parent is not allowed visitation, or is allowed minimal and restricted visitation because that parent is involved in illegal activity, substance abuse, abuse and violence, unsafe living conditions, neglect, or other dangers to the child(ren). Although a troubled parent may change whatever circumstances that made it necessary for them have restricted access to the child(ren), it is best to follow the court ordered custody until it is modified by the court to allow the troubled parent greater access to the child(ren). If a parent allows their child(ren) to have greater access to a troubled parent than what is ordered, they are endangering the welfare of the child(ren) by placing the child(ren) in the care and control of someone who is known to be dangerous. This may have the effect of the child(ren) being placed into government care with both parents having restricted access to the children, since the court cannot trust either parent to not place the children into dangerous situations. Furthermore, if you allow a parent with restricted access to have more access than what is ordered by the court, it will be difficult to convince the court that you believe the troubled parent is a danger to the child(ren). The court will note that you have not acted upon your concerns for the safety of the child(ren) by placing the child(ren) into the care of someone known to be dangerous. The court may even conclude that the person with restricted access is not a true threat since the other parent is willing to allow more than restricted access. When one parent is given only restricted access, it is best to follow the court ordered custody arrangement and not enter into any custody agreement unless and until the circumstances necessitating restricted access are removed.

There are often unintended consequences of not following a custody order. Including the possibility for disagreement and mistrust between two people in a co-parenting relationship; the possibility that you will weaken your arguments for maintaining your amount of custody at your next hearing; and, most devastating, the possibility of criminal charges and government involvement in your next custody arrangement.

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