June 5, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The Oklahoma legislature has passed Senate Bill 1612 that would make enforcement of visitation orders easier for non-custodial parents. Unlike an earlier measure that would have helped non-custodial parents enforce their visitation orders, this one has been signed into law by the governor, as this article reports (Coweta American, 6/3/14).
Perhaps most important, the new law, which goes into effect November 1st, allows non-custodial parents to seek a court order without hiring a lawyer. The law creates a form a non-custodial parent can fill out that, without more, will get him notice to the other parent and a hearing within 21 days of the motion’s being filed. That alone has the potential to hugely effect the non-custodial parent’s ability to enforce visitation. As things stand now, those parents have to hire a lawyer, or, if they don’t, navigate the sometimes byzantine workings of the family court to get a hearing, give notice to the other side and assemble the appropriate evidence. Plus, given that there will be more and more unrepresented parents coming to court, judges and clerks will be more inclined to assist them in producing the correct evidence.
The essentially cost-free process will enable far more non-custodial parents to seek court orders than currently can. The absence of a need for a lawyer puts them on somewhat of a level playing field with parents seeking enforcement of child custody orders who can have the state’s lawyers represent them in court.
If the non-custodial parent prevails in his motion, the judge is deprived of the alternative of doing nothing to enforce the visitation order. What fathers see time and again are judges granting the motion but effectively giving the miscreant mom another chance and often yet another chance before punishing her contempt of court. Those multiple court appearances of course run to money, particularly if there’s a lawyer involved.
But under the new law, if the non-custodial parent wins, the judge is required to act. The judge is empowered to award the non-custodial parent make-up time with the child for all the access that’s been denied. He/she can require the custodial parent to post a bond that’s forfeited if visitation is denied. (Bonding companies don’t take kindly to people whose wrongful behavior requires them to pay up.)
And of course the law allows the court to modify the existing child custody order, so the parent who interferes with visitation runs the risk of losing custody altogether.
If the court finds that a custodial parent has unreasonably denied or otherwise interfered with the visitation rights of a noncustodial parent three (3) times, the court shall find the custodial parent in contempt and impose punishment as provided by Section 566 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes.
Title 21, Section 566 provides for a parent held in contempt to be fined up to $500 or be jailed for six months or both. And again, the judge doesn’t have discretion about this. He/she “shall find the custodial parent in contempt and impose punishment.”
Non-custodial parents need to proceed with caution, though. Whoever prevails on the motion, the judge is required to assess attorney’s fees and costs of court on the opposite party. So a non-custodial parent who seeks to enforce visitation must put together a good case.
“This bill is about holding custodial parents more responsible for honoring visitation schedules. Unfortunately, the visitation rights of law-abiding noncustodial parents are continually trampled because they simply can’t afford the court costs of taking the custodial parent to court after every visitation violation,” said [bill co-sponsor Ron] Sharp, R-Shawnee.
“This bill keeps noncustodial parents from having to go through the hassle and expense of getting a lawyer when the custody schedule isn’t upheld by the custodial parent," he continued. "They can simply fill out a form at the courthouse detailing the visitation schedule violations and the courts will reevaluate the visitation schedule and punish the violator if needs be.”
SB 1612 modifies the procedure for enforcing visitation orders of the court. It requires any order of the court providing for visitation to contain a provision stating that the custodial parent has a duty to facilitate visitation of a minor child with the noncustodial parent.
In addition, the measure directs a court to award reasonable attorney fees and court costs to the prevailing party on a motion for enforcement of visitation rights.
Echols, who is a family law attorney, says violations of court-ordered visitation by custodial parents are growing at an alarming rate but the noncustodial parents typically cannot afford to fight for their rights.
He also noted that a majority of District Attorney offices in Oklahoma have a division dedicated to securing child support payments from noncustodial parents, and he’s pleased to finally see more focus being given to protecting the visitation rights of noncustodial parents.
“Currently, if a noncustodial parent is late on child support, they can face fines and jail time. Our state takes not paying child support very serious but we also need to be just as serious about custodial parents following court orders and allowing the other parent to see their children,” said [bill co-sponsor Jon] Echols.
It’s not the end of things as we know them in family courts, but it’s a step in the right direction.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
#non-custodialparent, #visitation, #contemptofcourt, #Oklahoma