The words are deliberately menacing: “… authority to punish as contempt of court any willful failure of a party to comply with the provisions of the order …” Virginia Code does not cut parents any slack in court orders, even when the subject is the fickle heart of a tween or teen. What could happen to you if your child refuses visitation? What can you do?
Virginia Law & Contempt of Court
That nugget at the top is from Virginia Code § 20-124.2, Court Ordered Custody and Visitation Arrangements. Contempt of court is not a slap on the wrist in Virginia. Virginia’s court system spells it out:
- §18.2-456 allows a sentence of up to 10 days incarceration if the person charged is found guilty; OR
- §16.1-278.16 allows a sentence of up to 12 months incarceration if the person charged is found guilty
Those are criminal charges, which, admittedly, are seldom imposed on issues regarding child custody and parenting time. Civil penalties are no cake walk:
- §16.1-292 allows for a disposition that might include incarceration until the contempt is purged (for example the support arrearage or a portion of it is paid or the child returned to the lawful custodian, or as ordered in each particular case). In this court the time that a person can be held in jail cannot exceed 12 months on a finding of guilt of contempt
What kind of parenting could you do from behind bars? Clearly any Virginia parent wishes to avoid a contempt of court charge for seeming to ignore child visitation rules set down in a divorce decree, property settlement agreement, or court order.
Communicate with Your Child’s Mother!
If you and the child’s mother have good communication, the problem raised by the child’s refusal should be clear to you both. Usually, a child does not spontaneously choose to be difficult. Warning signs go up long before the actual refusal.
Experts at Psychology Today advise minimizing the chances of problems by following a few simple guidelines when working out parenting time schedules with the child’s mother. Among them:
- Renegotiate a healthy co-parenting relationship after divorce or separation; you don’t have to be best friends with your child’s mother, but you do need to have a civilized relationship
- Do not badmouth the child’s mother in front of your child; tell your child a few good things about her
- Agree with the child’s mother about all rules concerning the children: bedtime, homework, amount of screen time, curfew
You could be unconsciously polluting the mental picture for your child if you have been making the visit to Mom seem unpleasant. Then the refusal to visit makes sense; life with Dad is far better than life with Mom, even if only for a weekend.
Communicate with Your Child
Find out what is bothering your child about the visitation. A one-time refusal is not a pattern. Perhaps illness, conflicting schedules, or the absence of a special friend is weighing on your child more than the thought of spending time with Mom.
Never recruit your child as a spy, of course, a reality widely known since at least 1994 when The Washington Post advised against it. Yet you have a right to ask your child her or his honest opinion about visits to Mom’s digs:
- Is her house clean?
- Are you eating well when visiting?
- Does something in particular bother you about going to her place?
If you can find out what is bugging your child, you can solve what’s bugging you: the mysterious refusal to visit. Share your knowledge with the child’s mother and work out a solution. Anything — any compromise, any momentary argument — is better than being found in contempt of court.
Keep in mind that you could be the parent the children do not want to visit. The same methods apply: find out what the problem is, communicate with the children’s mother, and solve the problem.
Virginia judges will not tolerate parents who claim a four-year-old is refusing visitation. A child’s tantrums are no excuse. Be the adult and exert parental control.
On the other hand, the 15-year-old may not be so easily controlled, and here a judge may be open to modifications to the visitation schedule in the best interests of the teenager.
Contempt charges rarely apply for the occasional visitation refusal. A pattern of repeated refusal, though, could result in legal action against the custodial parent. As with any legal matter, document everything. Get help from your family law attorney.
Call The Firm For Dads
Parenting time, visitation — whatever you wish to call it, the subject is fraught with real problems. Your best ally with visitation and other child-centered issues is an experienced Virginia family law attorney. Contact us at The Firm For Men, or give our offices a call at 757-383-9184. We can help you preserve and defend your rights as a Virginia father.