Child custody and visitation are among the most emotionally-charged aspects of a divorce for splitting couples. State laws favor single mothers in child custody situations and automatically award child custody to them. In situations of marriage, if children are young, have been cared for primarily by a stay-at-home mother and are not weaned from breastfeeding, the mother will be favored in any award of physical custody. A mother’s custody rights are not absolute, however. In instances of unfitness and other limited circumstances, she can lose physical and/or legal custody.
What can mothers do to protect custody rights?
If a mother’s custody, visitation and/or relationship with her children are hampered or inhibited by the children’s father and the level of interference is unreasonable, the mother has remedies available to her. These are some of the primary remedies available to mothers seeking to protect their custody rights:
- Seek court enforcement of existing custody and visitation schedule order. Most parties’ visitation schedule and custody arrangement is set forth in a final order that is entered by the family court. So, if a father interferes with the custody arrangement or visitation schedule and thereby violates terms of the court’s order, he has breached his legal duty to adhere to the order and its terms. He can be found in contempt of court. A show cause hearing may be held, in which the father is hauled into court to explain his conduct. The court could very well sanction him with lost time with his kids, a non-monetary penalty or a monetary penalty.
- Seek court enforcement of divorce decree and parenting agreement. Besides the visitation schedule and custody order, a mother can protect her rights with regard to her children by seeking court enforcement of the couple’s divorce decree and any parenting agreement. These documents typically outline the parties’ rights.
- Seek an injunction from the court. If custody and/or visitation rights are consistently violated by the father’s conduct, then the mother can seek an injunction from the court as a remedy. The purpose of an injunction is to prevent the father from kidnapping the kids, moving away with the kids, traveling with them without authorization and consent from the mother, or otherwise impeding the mother’s court-ordered custody and/or visitation schedule.
- Contact the local police. The local police or sheriff’s department may also be contacted if a father threatens, inhibits or otherwise disturbs a mother’s custody and/or visitation schedule with the children.
Return to court to seek modification to custody and visitation order(s). Finally, mothers may also go back to court and petition for a revisiting of the custody and/or visitation schedule order(s). A mother can seek more time with her kids, different days, different times, different holidays, reduced time with the father, termination of custody and/or visitation rights of the father and other such modifications.