Montana Child Custody Question: What Do You Do if the Other Parent Does Not Follow the Parenting Plan?Marybeth Sampsel
One of the questions I am asked most often is how to enforce a parenting plan when the other parent is not complying with a plan. Parenting plan violations range from significant (i.e. not returning the child when required to do so) to mild (i.e. taking the child too school late, refusing telephone contact, etc.). Sometimes, parenting plan violations seem mild enough that seeking court intervention does not make a lot of sense. In that circumstance, it may be best to keep track of the violations and notify the other parent that they are violating the plan and that if the violations continue, court intervention may be necessary.
In other circumstances, however, parenting plan violations are significant enough that a parent feels it is necessary to get the court involved to enforce the parenting plan. This process is often called a “contempt action.” Contempt is a finding by the court that someone willfully violated a court order. When your parenting plan is ordered by the court (either through a trial/hearing or by approving an agreement), it becomes a court order. As such, violations of a parenting plan are punishable by contempt.
If you file a motion or petition for contempt against the other parent, you will need to give the court information about what violations have occurred. Because the information needs to be provided, it is important that you keep track of parenting violations in a parenting journal or catalogue. With good record keeping, you will be able to inform the court about the exact date and time an incident happened, rather than a general “well…this one time…I don’t remember when” situation.
After a motion for contempt is filed, the court will give the other party an opportunity to respond and, eventually, set the case for a hearing. If the court finds the other person in contempt, that parent can be punished with fines, a money judgment (in circumstances involving failure to pay) and, in very extreme cases, jail time. Additionally, the court will likely require the parent to comply with the parenting plan going forward.
Filing for contempt can be fairly complex, so it is best if you see an attorney to assist you. Of course, that isn’t always a financial option. If you are not able to afford an attorney, consider meeting with an attorney for an hour consultation, so that you can seek advice about your particular case.
REMEMBER: One parent’s failure to follow the parenting plan does not excuse the other parent from complying. Even if your ex never follows the parenting plan, it is important that you still comply with the plan. If you’ve been violating the plan, you will have a heck of a time forcing the other parent to comply.