Divorce, like many stressful life events, can bring out the best in some people and the worst in others.
Some divorcing couples rise to the occasion, put aside their differences and commit to moving forward in the most productive way possible. This is especially important when children are involved.
But in too many cases, one or both ex-spouses choose not to follow the terms of the divorce, and sadly, this is too often related to custody orders or agreed-upon arrangements for children.
In these cases, the parent who is following the schedule and terms of the custody agreement will often feel stressed, overwhelmed and uncertain as to what can be done to enforce the order. Additionally, children caught in the middle are impacted by the stress of these situations.
So, what can be done if your spouse or ex-spouse isn’t following custody orders in Missouri?
Do You Have a Court-Approved Parenting Plan?
The first issue in dealing with an ex who is failing to adhere to custody arrangements is to determine whether a court signed off on your parenting plan.
In Missouri, a written parenting plan is required for all child custody cases. If the court determines a parenting plan is in the best interest of the child or children, the court will design and sign off on it.
These provisions cover custody and visitation schedules; details about education and extracurricular activities; all aspects of health care; communication methods and procedures between parents; the division of expenses related to the children; procedures for resolving future disagreements on the plan, and information about child support.
In such a case, the parenting plan is considered a court order, and a parent who violates any provision of the plan is violating a court order (also known as being in contempt).
The bottom line is if you have a court-approved parenting plan with your ex and they violate the terms spelled out in it, the court will take the necessary steps – which may include getting law enforcement involved – to bring your ex into compliance with the plan.
What If You Don’t Have a Court-Approved Parenting Plan?
Court-approved parenting plans are universal in Missouri and have been for several years. But there are many divorced couples whose divorces were finalized prior to new legislation mandating court-approved parenting plans went into effect.
In these situations, the courts or police may only enforce your custody agreement with your ex if you believe your child or children are in immediate danger.
In such a case, you should immediately contact police or the child abduction unit of your county’s prosecuting attorney’s office.
What Does Enforcement of a Court-Approved Plan Look Like?
Under Missouri law, there are several options to consider when one ex-spouse is not complying with custody orders.
First, you may contact your ex and attempt to work out an agreement on the issue at hand.
Second, you may call the police. Certainly, if your ex is hours late returning your children to you, you should consider this option. However, police can be reluctant to get involved in a family issue unless the children may be in danger.
In cases where the police choose not to get involved, it still may be useful to have a police report should you end up in court at some point. In that vein, it’s important that you track and document all occurrences of your ex’s violations of the custody plan.
Getting the courts involved in enforcement of the parenting plan can result in a judge modifying the existing parenting plan, temporarily adjusting the plan to give you additional time with the children in order to make up for lost time and directing your ex to pay your court costs and legal fees.
Finally, you may think it’s best to request that the court hold your ex in contempt of court, which means he or she willfully disobeyed a court order (in this case, the court-approved parenting plan). This can result in fines or jail time for your ex.
While it may seem tempting to some, it’s important to consider what’s best for the children involved.
Get the Best Legal Counsel Possible For Enforcement Of Custody Orders
As difficult as divorce is, custody disputes can be far more stressful. Emotions run high, judgment is clouded and it’s not unusual for frustrated and stressed exes to make questionable decisions.
When these issues arise, it’s extremely important that you seek the help of lawyers with significant experience in family law.
The Missouri family law attorneys of Marler Law Partners have handled countless custody issues they know the law like the back of their hand, and they know the courts of St. Louis and Southeast Missouri.
Our lawyers can explain the issues, clarify your options and advocate powerfully for you and your children. Contact Marler Law Partners today for a complimentary consultation if your ex willfully violates your court-ordered parenting plan.