Parent Time: This is not a “pay to play” thing.

I’ve had this question come up a few times in the past few weeks, from a few different places.  A friend from way back asked if it was legal to withhold parent time for non-payment of child support, because he knows a guy (who lost his job, and got behind) who is experiencing that right now with his ex.  And I advised a couple that their daughter cannot keep her kids away from dad because he’s not paying child support (even though that dude is actually refusing to work specifically so he doesn’t have to pay–but that’s a topic for another day.)

So why CAN’T a custodial parent keep the non-custodial from having parent time if that person isn’t paying his/her child support?

Let’s start with the focus of the issue:  The kids need to have a relationship with BOTH parents.  Parent time is not something that is doled out based upon one’s ability to pay, or even their willingness to pay child support.  Studies have shown that children in divorce do better emotionally and socially when they have both parents actively involved in their lives.  A parent time order is designed to do just that–keep both parents involved with the kids.  Keeping a child from a loving parent, just because that parent isn’t paying the other one, disrupts the child’s relationship with that parent, and really could constitute emotional child abuse.

Mrs Doubtfire

One should never have to cross-dress just to have access to their kids.

“But it’s not fair!”  I hear this a lot (I hate the “F”–fair–word).  Why should the non-custodial parent get the benefit of having a relationship with the child when he/she isn’t even financially supporting the kid? I’ll tell you why–this is NOT about you, and it’s not about the money.  It’s about the kids.  Kids. Need. Both. Parents.  Even if one parent is a deadbeat (and for the record–I do not believe all people who don’t pay child support are deadbeats).  As (retired) Commissioner Garner of the First & Second Judicial Districts here in Utah was wont to say, children are half of each parent.  Denying a child from being with a parent is denying half of the child.   In the words of Natalie Hillard, the littlest child in Mrs. Doubtfire, “we’re his goddamn kids too!”

The divorce code specifically states that the other party not complying with the parenting plan provisions or child support order does not mean you can not comply, too.  (See U.C.A. 30-3-10.9(9)).  Parent time is part of the parenting plan provisions.

So yeah, it’s illegal.  But it’s also criminal.  If you keep a kid from a non-paying parent during the time he/she is supposed to have visitation, just because they’re not paying child support, you are committing a crime.  It’s called custodial interference, and the statute is found at U.C.A. 76-5-303.  Nothing in the statute makes an exception for non-payment of child support.  Unless you honest to God believe your child is in danger of abuse at the hands of the other parent, you cannot keep a parent with a visitation order away from his or her kid(s) during the time they have been awarded by the court.

Custodial Interference - 2016

…though it IS located in the criminal code under kidnapping…

A first offense is a Class B Misdemeanor; doing this twice in a 2 year period raises that to a Class A Misdemeanor.  Removing the child from the state when it’s supposed to be the other parent’s time is a third degree felony.  Class B misdemeanors may be punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and prison not to exceed 6 months; Class A–fine up to $2500 and not more than one year in prison; and third degree felonies may be punishable by a fine up to $5000 and up to 5 years in prison (see U.C.A. 76-3-301; 76-3-203; and 76-3-204).  The legislature was serious about parent time.  You should be, too.

So what can you do if this happens to you?  First off–you should be communicating clearly and in writing with a parent who is withholding your kids from you.  Email and request confirmation of the parent time schedule for the week, or the month, or the summer, or whatever.  Be civil.  Keep any responses.  Text the other parent about parent time.  Be civil.  Keep all responses.

If you have a statement from the other parent saying that they will NOT give you the kids for your parent time, call the police.  Request a civil standby, and go to the ex’s place to pick up your kids at the appointed hour.  When the other parent and the kids aren’t there, or if the other parent refuses to allow you to take the kids, make a police report.  Get copies of the police report. Request law enforcement refer the case to the local prosecutor.

File a motion to enforce your parent time order with the court.  This is called an Order to Show Cause.  It does not cost you anything to file, and you do not have to have a lawyer for this.  You can find forms on the Utah courts website to do this.

The caveats on enforcement:  Police and prosecutors won’t always want to charge a parent with custodial interference.  But if it were me, I would make a pest of myself until law enforcement took me seriously.  We’re talking about your relationship with your kids.  They won’t always be kids; you miss out on their growing up, and you can’t get that back.  If they don’t know who you are because the custodial parent is horrible, and you didn’t try harder, that’s partly on you.  Be the adult.  Be brave.

They’re your goddamn kids too.

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