Virginia has 173 police departments, according to USA Cops1(yes, we counted). Can you count on them to be the heavy when you need a savior to enforce a child custody agreement? Should you take matters into your own hands? What should you do when the mother of your children refuses to give your kids to you for a visit?
Calling the Cops: Civil vs. Criminal
You and your kids’ mother work under a court’s orders. You and she are legally bound to abide by the judge’s orders, which can include everything from exact dates and times to exchange your children for visitation to who is responsible for which expenses and more.
If your children’s mother is in violation of the court order—if she refuses to let you have the children on the agreed-upon schedule, ignores your texts and calls, or constantly switches schedules at the last minute—what can you do?
Except for specific circumstances, you should not call the police. Your divorce and child custody are civil matters, not a criminal case. The police may respond to your call to prevent a domestic dispute, but they will usually refer you to the courts for relief.
Courts Run on Calendars, Not Stopwatches
Virginia’s legal system is designed around court calendars. We say that to remind you, politely, that almost nothing in the legal system is measured with a stopwatch. This is an intentional structural component: time allows emotions to dissipate, so cool logic prevails. That works directly against you, the father, awaiting your children for your parenting time and being frustrated by an indifferent mother who does not deliver them to you.
But once you accept that a remedy will not be instantaneous, you can perhaps relax and go with the flow a bit more. Your recourse is going to take days and weeks, not hours and minutes. A Motion to Show Cause for Contempt of Court, for example, is a petition your attorney can file to compel the children’s mother to obey the first order she disobeyed. Of course, she may ignore that second directive, too, but at least a Virginia judge is now sitting up and taking notice. She has invited legal scrutiny.
How to Enforce Child Custody Orders
Virginia has a law on the books, called “Expedited enforcement of child custody; determination,” § 20-146.29, that provides specific legal relief:
“Upon the filing of a petition, the court shall issue an order directing the respondent to appear in person with or without the child at a hearing and may enter any order necessary to ensure the safety of the parties and the child. The hearing must be held on the next judicial day after service of the order unless that date is impossible. In that event, the court shall hold the hearing on the first judicial day possible. The court may extend the date of hearing at the request of the petitioner.”
Theoretically, anyone can file the petition, DC-584, PETITION FOR EXPEDITED ENFORCEMENT UNDER VIRGINIA CODE § 20-146.29 OF THE UNIFORM CHILD CUSTODY AND ENFORCEMENT ACT. Virginia even provides free access to the form online as well as the three-page instruction manual for completing the one-page form.
We say theoretically because, to be honest, the form and the instructions are daunting. Just take a look at that all-caps title, will you?
You may be more comfortable having your attorney file the petition. And notice that the respondent (the recalcitrant mother of your children) is required to appear in court the day after she is served with the notice.
For good or bad, that is the fastest service you will get from the courts.
When to Actually Call the Police
Having said, and emphasized, that you should not call the police to intervene in a civil dispute, we do also want to protect Virginia’s children by clarifying when you should call the police on their mother.
Suppose you show up at her house to pick up the kids. They are in the driveway, and you and she are chatting. Suddenly she gets angry, and she turns the kids back to the house, hustling them inside, their little crying voices begging to go with you.
She has suddenly turned a routine drop-off into a hostage situation. She could possibly be charged with custodial interference. If she accuses you of trespassing because you are on her property to pick up your kids, she could be charged with filing a false police report. You have a legal right to access for purposes of fulfilling the court-ordered custody agreement.
If you suspect your children are in danger, you have a duty to call the police.
As Virginia lawyers helping Virginia’s men preserve and defend their rights, The Firm for Men, at 757-383-9184 or by online contact, is ready to help remedy your child custody nightmare. We never advise anyone to take the law into their own hands. Rather, we ask you that you give us, officers of the court, a chance to be your helping hands.