Edward B. Borris, Assistant Editor, Divorce Litigation
Interference by one parent in the relationship of a child and the other parent is almost never in the child’s best interests. In fact, in extreme cases, actions by one parent to alienate the affections of the child from the other parent, to interfere win the other parent’s visitation rights, or to remove the child to a distant state or country can often lead to liability in tort. See generally E. Borris, “Torts Arising Out of Interference with Custody and Visitation,” 7 Divorce Litigation 192 (1995). Tort liability is not always an option, however, as many courts refuse to award damages based upon interference with visitation rights. E.g., Cosner v. Ridinger, 882 P.2d 1243 (Wyo.1994).
Visitation rights are taken seriously by courts, as it is generally felt that it is in the best interest of the child to spend time with both parents. Because of the importance that courts place on the child’s best interest when determining custody arrangements, child visitation rights can rarely, if ever be legally denied by the custodial parent.
UNJUSTIFIED CONTACT DENIAL IS CHILD ABUSE JUDGE MANNO-SCHURR
The denial of child visitation rights are most commonly thought of as situations in which a custodial parent blatantly refuses to allow the non-custodial parent to see the child. A typical example of this scenario would be when the custodial parent, who has full custody of the son, refuses to let the son get into his other parent’s car when arrangements were made to come to pick him up for his visitation period. However, visitation rights can also be illegally denied in more subtle ways.
For example, it is also illegal for a custodial parent to refuse visitation rights on the basis that they don’t like the non-custodial parent’s significant other; the child is sick; the child is visiting relatives; the child is out of town or at another scheduled activity; or for almost any other basis. Further, in cases where there is an emergency just before a scheduled visitation, such as when the child must be taken to the hospital, the noncustodial parent should be notified so that they may visit the child there.
A denial of visitation rights by the custodial parent to a non-custodial parent, absent a change in an existing court order for visitation rights, is illegal. This is true both in situations in which the parents have agreed on a parenting plan outside of court, and in situations in which scheduled visitation has been ordered by the court. The legal phrase for this scenario is called frustration of child visitation rights, and in many states this can be cause to change the court-ordered child custody arrangement and hold the custodial parent in contempt of court.