Many parents toil diligently to remain a part of their children’s lives in divorce and custody hearings. This isn’t always a fight that ends with the final agreement and ensuring that the rights you struggled for don’t get trampled can be a continuous battle. This is where enforcement proceedings may come in handy.
Men often work hard to establish their rights in a divorce or custody case only to slack when it comes to making sure they are enforced later on. In an ideal world, everyone abides by the final divorce decree. That isn’t always the case in reality, however.
This can be blatant, like your ex denying visitation, or it can be more subtle. Perhaps it starts out small, like your ex showing up late to drop off your kids or changing a vacation at the last minute. It may not even be an intentional power move, but this is slippery slope you should be aware of and keep an eye on.
Though these violations of the agreement may be minor at first, it can set a precedent and establish a larger pattern of negative behavior. You fought long and hard to get what the court awarded you, but you might have to continue to battle to make sure that happens.
If your former spouse is not following the rules laid out in the final agreement, you may have to return to court for enforcement proceedings, commonly known as contempt proceedings. These are an unfortunate but often necessary tool in these situations and may help you protect and enforce your rights as a father.
Establish The Rules
You can’t hold anyone accountable for the rules unless there are rules established. You can’t simply sit back and hope your spouse does the right thing. Before you move forward, there needs to be a concrete parenting plan in place that lays out custody and visitation, and that accounts for all the other variables.
We frequently receive calls from fathers who have issues with their ex in this regard. Many former couples begin by wanting to do what is best for the children in question, to work together and co-parent. Problems arise when this cooperative arrangement falls apart. Circumstances change, details get missed in communication, and there can be disagreements.
Too rarely do parents discuss and spell out the specific details and minutia. We’re talking about dates, times, vacations, adjustments, and the base level particulars. The first step to combating what can be an incredibly frustrating situation is to come up with a parenting plan.
It’s great to hope that you and your ex will be amicable enough to put your differences aside to benefit your children. If the two of you can work together in this way, fantastic. Though you may start out with the best of intentions, if conflict and disagreements rear their ugly heads, it will be to your advantage to have a tangible and enforceable deal on which to fall back. It’s best to set these rules during the divorce proceedings.
Follow The Rules
Once you set the rules, you need to follow the rules. That’s simple enough; abide by the accord you helped lay out. Schedules change and adjustments will happen; that’s a simple fact of life. But as much as possible, adhere to the structure. Substantial and consistent deviations from the schedule can set a precedent that may make enforcement down the road more difficult.
If you wind up in enforcement proceedings, following the rules yourself will benefit your case. It looks bad if you make the claim that your ex needs to obey the bargain the two of you struck, but you yourself can’t be bothered to do the same. Understandably, sticking to the rules while your ex flaunts them may be frustrating and disheartening, but it will serve you well in the long run.
Enforce The Rules
This is a step all too often overlooked or taken for granted, but one that can pay big dividends. Much as you should follow the rules, you should do what you can to make sure that your ex follows them as well.
Don’t let her get away with breaking or bending the rules the two of you agreed upon. If she pushes the boundaries, seeing what you will and won’t tolerate, but you never call her out, this behavior is more likely to continue and will be more difficult be to stop in the future. It may only take setting firm boundaries once or twice to establish the line, but the more you let things slide the easier it is for the situation to slip out of your control.
While it’s important to enforce significant violations of the parenting plan, don’t be petty. Denying you vacations, holidays, or weekend visitation are all major issues. We’re talking about that sort of infraction, not about being 15 minutes late for drop off. Small abuses are just that, small. While annoying, these are minor inconveniences at worst and are likely to stretch the patience of many judges during enforcement proceedings. Stick to the big stuff.
Proving breaches of the deal is important and something you should document with great care. Having a witness at a pickup or drop off where your ex doesn’t show may be a key to your case. If you get a clear denial via email, text message, voice mail, or on social media, save that piece of evidence. The more you have on record, the stronger your claims will be.
Benefits Of Enforcement Proceedings
A successful outcome of enforcement proceedings is readily apparent: moving forward, your custody situation should be easier and follow the previously established path. But there’s more. If your ex is found in contempt for violating the parenting plan—meaning that a judge formally reprimands her—you may wind up with benefits beyond simple assurances she’ll follow the plan.
You may get additional time with your children to make up for missed visitations, holidays, or vacations. In some cases, since you almost certainly had to hire an attorney to represent you in enforcement proceedings, if the violations are deemed willful and intentional, she may have to cover a portion of your costs. The most important part is obviously that you get your relationship with your kids back on track without interference, but these can be nice bonuses.
It may only take one sound legal thrashing to set your ex straight. In some cases, even simply the threat of legal action may get things back on track. While no one wants to resort to enforcement proceedings, it can be a beneficial tool.
Feel free to contact Goldberg Jones at our Portland office if you have questions about your custody arrangement or how to make you ex to adhere to your shared parenting plan.