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What Happens if an Ex-Spouse Violates a Parenting Plan?

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If an ex-spouse violates a parenting plan repeatedly, the possible consequences include a judge giving the compliant parent more custody rights or even taking away the wrongdoing parent’s custody rights. Additional penalties can include giving the compliant parent make-up time with the child, compensation for attorney fees, and even time in jail. These repercussions may require the compliant parent to take the ex-spouse to court. Some violating parents start complying after they get a stern letter from their ex-spouse’s lawyer outlining the potential repercussions. However, if an ex-spouse breaks a parenting plan just once or twice in minor ways, there will probably be no repercussions.

Divorce and divide concept. Models of family with child and house close-up

What Constitutes a Parenting Plan Violation?

Parenting plan violations take many forms. Some examples include:

  • A parent refusing to let the other parent see the child according to the allocated times set in the parenting plan
  • One parent alienating the child against the other parent
  • A parent returning the child late or not at all
  • One parent repeatedly and intentionally violating visitation times, either showing up early or late, and dropping the child off early or late
  • A parent exposing children to domestic violence or situations forbidden by the parenting agreement (being in the company of registered sex offenders, for example)
  • One parent prohibiting the child from communicating with the other parent

It is also a parenting plan violation if your ex-spouse moves far away in violation of the parenting plan and falls through on agreements, such as allowing the children to attend a specific school. A co-parent who fails to get the other’s consent for major decisions and who does not pay child support as agreed also breaks the plan.

Identifying violations is not always easy, though. Parenting plans are detailed, so it is easy to run afoul of provisions.

A one-time incident of a parent dropping a child off five, 30, or even 60 minutes late probably will not hold sway with a judge as a violation. This type of incident would not be why a judge would modify parenting time.

This kind of lateness occurring three times in, say, two months likely would not, either. An hour late each and every single time might be, although your child custody lawyer would probably advise addressing the issue with your co-parent first (whether you do it yourself or through the lawyer). Lawyers can clarify issues with you and determine whether something could constitute a serious enough violation for a judge to do something about it.

What to Do if an Ex-Spouse Violates a Parenting Plan

The steps to take if an ex-spouse violates a parenting plan depends on your relationship with the ex and the nature of the violation. One-time violations, especially if minor and unintentional, are not likely to result in much. You may accidentally violate the parenting plan on occasion too, so these types of minor breaches you may just want to overlook.

If your relationship with your ex is overall good, the two of you may be able to discuss and resolve even relatively serious violations on your own. It helps if you keep the child’s best interests in mind when talking with the co-parent and approach discussions in a collaborative spirit.

Of course, some parenting plan violations are repeated, intentional, egregious, or serious. When this happens, there are additional steps to take to resolve the issue.

Document the Issues

Track the other parent’s violations, including the date and nature of the violation, the circumstances of it, how the child was affected, how you and the other parent handled the violation, and any related evidence you have showing a violation occurred. Messages from the other parent are an example. The documentation method can be as simple as keeping notes in a journal, or more sophisticated, such as tracking on a spreadsheet.

If your ex is the one accusing you of violations that never occurred or that were one-time and minor, track these accusations, too. Any proof you can show that the accusations are baseless will be helpful. For example, if your ex says you never showed up on X day to take your child as agreed, but you have text messages saying you both agreed to change the arrangement on that day, that is proof that no violation occurred.

Communication and Mediation

Direct communication with a parent can resolve issues. Your co-parent may initially brush off your issues with late drop-offs. However, the parent could change his or her tune when you present a spreadsheet showing that three of every four times, the parent drops your child off at least 30 minutes late or at a different location than agreed on. Sometimes it takes clear evidence like this for parents to realize that what they have viewed as minor issues really are not.

Mediation, when your ex-spouse violates a parenting plan, can be fruitful, too. A third party works with you and your ex to resolve the disputes. Go into talks with an open mind. Problems can occur when you can’t settle on a parenting plan in Illinois because one spouse felt railroaded into accepting clearly unfair terms that the other would not budge on.

Acting out by violating the parenting plan might be the ex-spouse’s way of addressing the perceived concerns. Maybe the spouse has a point that the plan is unfair—or maybe not. Either way, maintaining a collaborative approach is ideal. Your ex may not be in that mindset, of course.

Consult With Your Lawyer

Meet with your attorney to discuss the options if other approaches fail or are not realistic (such as in cases of abuse or serious, threatening violations that the other parent refuses to recognize as such).

Your lawyer might send your ex-spouse a sternly written letter outlining the situation and the possible legal measures in store if your ex continues to breach the parenting plan. Much of the time, this type of letter stops parenting plan violations.

Your lawyer could file a motion to enforce a court order or ask the court to hold your ex in contempt. If it’s a motion to enforce a court order, the judge typically decides on a resolution such as modifying the parenting plan or giving you makeup time with the child. The consequences can become more severe, too.

Penalties for Violating a Parenting Plan

When your ex-spouse violates a parenting plan, the repercussions can be serious. If you have documentation proving violations, the effects could include your ex’s custody rights being stripped and your ex being given supervised parenting time instead.

This is common when the violation relates to the child’s safety. A third party supervises the visits. Supervised visitation may occur in cases of mental illness, violence, one parent living with a sex offender or being close to a sex offender, and other situations. Proof can take the form of one parent’s documentation of violations, a criminal history, and expert testimony on the effects on the child.

Another possible penalty is your ex being held in contempt. This could lead to your ex attending parenting classes and regular check-in hearings, paying fines, and serving jail time. Both of you might have to attend counseling together.

Frequent or serious violations bring the harshest penalties. Your ex trying to flee the state or country with your child would be serious and could lead to your ex’s loss of custody. Likewise, your ex letting a convicted sex offender move in and be alone with the child could be serious, too.

Parental alienation is grave, but often tricky to prove. Detailed records, saved or screenshot social media posts and text messages, and witness statements can help prove parental alienation. An example of alienation is when parent A tells the child that parent B does not love him or her and that is why B never shows up to events and to pick up the child.

The reality is that parent A gives B incorrect times and is never around as agreed for pickups. A witness could testify that B always goes to the agreed-on meeting place for pickups, but that parent A and the child are never there.

Likewise, saved text messages could prove that parent A texted B a lie along the lines of, “child dropped out of soccer, so no more practices and games.” Meanwhile, the child has remained on the team and thinks parent B does not care enough to show up to games.

Another example would be a text reply lying, “child is napping,” “child is at a play date,” or “child has gone to bed,” when parent B texts parent A on multiple days and nights asking to speak with the child.

It is a good idea to consult with your lawyer about parenting plan violations. The penalties when your ex-spouse violates a parenting plan often tie into the strength of the documentation. This situation is nothing to jump into headfirst without consideration.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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