In Washington State, the courts must approve every parenting plan. This is true whether the court ordered it during a divorce trial or the parents agreed on the plan. This court approval means that a parenting plan violation is also a violation of a court order.
When people violate court orders, they can face serious consequences. Referred to as “being held in contempt of court,” a parent who violates a parenting plan may face fines, lose future parenting time, or even face jail time.
What does “contempt of court” mean?
When the court learns of someone who fails to follow a court order, it can hold that person in contempt. When a parent violates a parenting plan, it is usually a case of willful disobedience. The courts do not appreciate when anyone disrespects their orders, and as such, treat violations seriously.
However, a single small violation is probably not going to make one parent seek redress against the other. In many cases, only serious or repeated violations lead to a parent being held in contempt of court.
What type of parenting plan violations can lead to contempt?
There are a number of plan violations that lead to contempt. This action can occur when one parent takes a disallowed action or fails to take a mandatory action. For example, someone could violate a parenting plan by refusing to return the children at the appropriate time, or failing to pick them up.
In many cases, violations of a parenting plan occur because one parent refuses to follow the visitation schedule. This may occur when one parent:
- Refuses to allow the children to see the other parent
- Does not return the child at the appropriate time
- Does not return the child at all
- Fails to ensure the child can see their other parent as outlined in the parenting plan
If parents share responsibility for decision-making, violations can occur when:
- One parent excludes the other from a decision
- One parent refuses to inform the other of something involving the child’s health or wellbeing (e.g., the child needs surgery)
- One parent goes against the other’s wishes
Failing to pay child support is another way some parents violate a court order and find themselves facing contempt consequences. If there is a history of domestic abuse, violating a restraining order may lead to serious contempt of court consequences, as well.
What happens if the court holds someone in contempt?
In many cases, being held in contempt of court for the first time leads to a fine of attorney fees and make-up parenting time if parenting time was lost. The judge will also reiterate the importance of following the parenting plan. This is often effective, but the court can issue additional consequences if it believes the situation warrants them.
These repercussions may include:
- Attending approved parenting classes
- Mandatory counseling for both parents
- Additional hearings to monitor progress and adherence
- Additional fines (civil penalty)
- Jail time, in rare cases
In the most serious cases or when a parent refuses to follow the parenting plan despite repeated visits to court, the judge may opt to make modifications to the parenting plan. Sometimes, this can include limiting parenting time or only allowing supervised parenting time for the parent who violated the plan. While courts try to avoid this type of situation, it is sometimes the best option. This is especially true when one parent tries to flee with the child or puts the child in extreme, unreasonable danger. For example, if a parent does not return the child at the scheduled time once, it is not usually a reason for concern. But when this occurs regularly, and the parent sometimes refuses to return to the other parent for days or weeks at a time, the courts will take this extremely seriously. The courts will do what it takes to coerce compliance with the orders.
How can a Spokane divorce and child custody lawyer help me?
When we are creating Washington State parenting plans with our clients, we try to be flexible and help the parents create a plan that works for them. But we are also careful to create strong dispute resolution provisions, and give parents clear directions for using these provisions. Sometimes, though, dispute resolution is ineffective or inappropriate for the situation.
If you find yourself in this situation, sometimes your only option is to report the other parent’s violations and let the court take care of the rest. We can help guide you through this process, holding the other parent responsible for any mistakes made, and ensure you and your children remain safe. Call David J. Crouse & Associates, PLLC today at 509-624-1380 to learn more.