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What Should I Do If My Ex Denies Visitation?

James Bond author Ian Fleming once wrote that “once is happenstance, twice is a coincidence, and thrice is enemy action.” That approach is a good rule of thumb, not only for fictional super-spies but also for the tens of thousands of unmarried co-parents in Cook County, when it comes to visitation denials.

Almost anything, including a missed child exchange or scheduling error, can happen once. If such things happen twice, that’s suspicious, especially since so much is at stake. At that point, a frank conversation with the other parent is usually necessary. If a visitation denial happens three times, even if the other parent has seemingly plausible excuses, it’s time to get the lawyers involved.

This attorney should be a very experienced Bolingbrook child custody lawyer. All family law matters are delicate, and visitation issues are especially delicate. A heavy-handed response often pours gasoline onto a smoldering fire, because it makes the other parent feel cornered. On the other hand, a light response probably doesn’t change anything and enables the parent to deny visitation even more frequently. An experienced lawyer measures twice and cuts once. An attorney carefully, yet quickly, assesses the situation, and acts appropriately.

Reasonable Basis for Denial

Before we look at appropriate responses to denied visitation, let’s see what the law says on this subject.

Illinois’ co-parenting law presumes that children benefit when they consistently and regularly spend meaningful amounts of time with each parent. Court hearings offer various opportunities for parents to present evidence, make legal arguments, and otherwise convince a judge to overturn this presumption.

Illinois law doesn’t authorize unilateral visitation denial. Technically, any such denial is contempt of court. The only provision that comes close is Section 603.10 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. A judge may immediately amend a visitation order if “a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development.”

Usually, the judge must find that a parent either abused the child or recklessly disregarded the child’s safety. Abuse comes in many forms. It could be physical, verbal, emotional, or something else.

That bit about significant impairment usually refers to a pattern of lesser emotional abuse, or perhaps to denial of basic needs.

As for recklessly disregarding safety, keeping guns in the house isn’t reckless disregard. Keeping unlocked and guns in the house isn’t reckless disregard. Leaving a child alone near an unlocked and loaded gun is probably reckless disregard.

If a visitation denial matter goes to court, and it usually does, the parent who denied visitation has the burden to prove reckless disregard or serious endangerment by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.

On a similar note, there’s no set age in Illinois for children to be alone by themselves. Many factors come into play, such as the child’s age, child’s maturity level, amount of time left alone, the reason for leaving the child alone, and time of day or night.

Serious endangerment and significant impairment are quite vague. In contrast, the invalid reasons for denying visitation are quite clear:

  • Failure to Pay Financial Support: For some reason, many parents believe visitation and support are related. But they aren’t, even if the other parent has never paid a dime of child support. This approach makes sense. Forcing a parent to pay support to see a child is like holding the child for ransom.
  • Revenge: This one should be obvious, but when we get angry, we often make poor choices. Revenge, which is fairly easy to prove in court, is never a valid reason to deny visitation.
  • Self-Help: Parents often believe they can freelance the court-ordered visitation schedule. Since my ex-wife didn’t let Junior come over last weekend, I’ll pick him up from school this Friday, to make up for the lost time. Only a judge has the power to amend a visitation schedule, even for one-off occurrences like a missed visitation.

These three things have some things in common. All these disputes are between grown-ups. The children shouldn’t be unnecessarily involved. Furthermore, unlike abuse or reckless disregard, there are usually two sides to the story in the above areas.

Motion to Enforce

This section’s header is a little misleading. A parent can rectify a wrongful visitation denial without going to court. In fact, in most cases, it’s better to handle these matters outside court. A Bolingbrook child custody lawyer has three basic options:

  • Fire a Warning Shot: Most people are pretty selfish. Frequently, they don’t see that their actions are hurtful. If that’s the case, simply calling the parent’s attention to the matter might solve the problem. Typically, attorneys always try the easy way first.
  • File a Motion to Enforce: Most visitation enforcement motions are based on the aforementioned section of the IMDMA. If the parent who denied visitation cannot prove reckless endangerment or abuse by a preponderance of the evidence, the judge will probably censure the parent and order makeup visitation.
  • Call the Cops: This extreme action is appropriate if one parent believes the other parent has kidnapped the child. Such conduct is never justified, even if the other parent is a monster. Extreme parental alienation usually causes permanent damage to a child’s psyche. Since the parent has violated a court order, and since the child’s emotional health is at stake, law enforcement usually intervenes upon request.

A motion to modify usually accompanies a motion to enforce. This modification action addresses issues like makeup visitation. This motion could also address the root problem. For example, if Mom took a new job in another county, the visitation schedule probably needs revision, since Junior has a new address, a new school, and a new life.

Rely On An Experienced Will County Child Custody Lawyer

Child visitation issues are a matter for the courts, not a place for self-help measures. For a free consultation with an experienced Bolingbrook child custody lawyer, contact Keller Legal Services by calling 630-505-1515. We routinely handle matters throughout Chicagoland.