When a couple with children goes separate ways, the North Carolina law dictates that child custody orders should be made in the children’s best interest. The objective is to create a stable environment, which often means awarding primary physical custody to one parent and visitation rights to the other. This applies even when parents share joint legal custody.
Nonetheless, one parent can decide to hold the visitation rights of the other, even with a custody order in place.
Is Denial of Visitation Allowed?
When the court gives child custody to one parent, they are responsible for the children on court-ordered arrangements. The arrangements can be fixed, reasonable, or supervised.
Only the court can deny visitation to a parent, which only happens if it has been established that the non-custodial parent threatens the children’s safety. The threat could be abusive behavior, neglect, or drug use.
Each parent is expected to respect the custody agreement under penalty of contempt of court. Therefore, you cannot withhold visitation from a non-custodial parent without reason, and even so, you will still need to prove your reasons under the penalty of contempt of court.
What Are Some Of The Legal Reasons To Withhold Visitation in North Carolina?
Visitation rights are legally binding; therefore, withholding this right from a parent puts you in contempt of court.
On the other hand, if there is a valid concern for the safety of the children, you can deny the visitation but must be prepared to produce evidence to the court. If you are uncertain about how to approach the issue, consult an attorney so that you do everything right per the court’s guidelines.
Visitation rights are protected by the court to prevent people from using malicious reasons such as:
- Anger over the divorce proceedings.
- Punishment for missing an appointment.
- Desire to retaliate against the other parent for past actions.
- Failure by the parent to pay child or spousal support.
- The thought that the other parent is not a good enough parent or caregiver.
- The child does not want to visit the other parent.
These types of reasons are considered personal and biased and will not hold up in court.
The only time the court will allow you to deny the other parent visitation is if they put the children involved in imminent danger. For example, when a parent comes to pick up a child when they are heavily intoxicated.
In such a situation, your best reaction is to withhold visitation, but if things escalate and the child is forcibly taken, it is within your rights to inform the authorities. The police report will be used later as evidence of the other parent’s risky behavior.
In some scenarios, the risk or danger is not apparent, such as suspicion of abuse or neglect. Unfortunately, without proof, there are no legal grounds to withhold visitation, even if you have a strong hunch.
The best you can do in the circumstances is try to document and collect evidence and then present it to court so that the custody order is modified to prevent the other parent from seeing the children.
Consequences for Denying Visitation without Cause
You risk facing criminal penalties such as jail time or criminal fines for denying visitation without cause. Additionally, violating a visitation order may make you lose your parental rights or have them reduced, especially if your reasons were malicious.
If this happens, you will have to put in a lot of work to convince the court to reinstate the rights you held before.
To avoid having your visitation arrangements reduced or revoked, always address your concerns to a lawyer that can present the matter to court on your behalf. This will help you avoid ramifications if your grounds are genuine and there is reliable evidence to back it up.
What Should You Do When You Are Denied Visitation?
Rather than try to handle things on your own, it is best to contact your attorney or the court if a violation of your visitation rights has occurred. Violations can take many forms, including:
- A parent keeping a child for a more extended period than the visitation order stipulates.
- One parent fails to inform the other of the whereabouts of a child.
- A parent takes a child on an unusually long trip without consulting the other beforehand.
- Taking a child beyond the state lines. This could also amount to federal issues.
- Leaving a child under the care of an unauthorized person.
If you are faced with any of these situations, inform the court as soon as possible so that the violation is recognized. This will ensure any actions you take are also not considered violations.
Hiring a Child Custody Attorney in North Carolina
Denial of visitation rights is a civil issue, but you still need the help of an attorney in navigating the process of enforcing the court orders on the visitation schedule. Often the process begins with the attorney informing the other parent that they are in violation and need to comply or make up for the missed visitations.
After that, a motion can be filed in the court that grants you the visitation order, requesting that they make the other parent comply with the visitation schedule. Then, the court may impose fines or jail terms using its authority.
Depending on the type of violation that has occurred, there are cases where the court can hold the other parent in criminal contempt, a more severe charge than civil contempt.
If you need any help on custody and visitation issues in North Carolina, contact Remington & Dixon, PLLC, to guide you through all the legal technicalities.
FAQs About Child Visitation in North Carolina
Do North Carolina courts favor the mother over the father?
How can I avoid a child visitation dispute?
Should I still pay child support even after being denied visitation?
Jennifer is a founding partner at Remington & Dixon, PLLC. Jennifer concentrates her practice in the areas of family law, wills & estates, unemployment benefits appeals, and traffic. At Elon University School of Law, Jennifer was the vice president of the Public Interest Law Society and a member of the Family Law Society. During law school, Jennifer interned at the Elon University School of Law Field Placement Clinic with Legal Aid of North Carolina where she represented clients in domestic violence court proceedings.