Why don’t the police help more with custody and parent-time enforcement?

In some jurisdictions, interference with or noncompliance with child custody orders issued by a court are not enforceable by police officers or sheriff’s deputies because there is no statute or statutes that authorize and empower the police to intervene. This is why law enforcement officers do not intervene in such jurisdictions. The only way that law enforcement officers can intervene in such jurisdictions is for a court to authorize and direct law enforcement officers to enforce child custody and parent time orders, and to do so by force if necessary. This is why, when a parent asking for the police to help with enforcement of a child custody or parent time order, will often receive this kind of response from the officer or officers called: “This is a civil matter. We do not have the authority to intervene to enforce your court orders.”

In other jurisdictions, such as Utah, where I practice divorce and family law, laws have been passed and are now on the books making interference with child custody and/or parent time orders a violation of statutory law. They are commonly referred to as “custodial interference laws”.

Do law enforcement officers in such jurisdictions enforce such statutes? Rarely.


Because being a law enforcement officer is a thankless job. Consequently, with rare exception, law enforcement officers hate enforcing custodial interference laws. Law enforcement officers generally dislike handling disputes between parents over enforcement of custody and parent time orders because it wastes their time and resources and interferes with their ability to prevent and solve serious crimes, such as aggravated assault, rape, burglary, etc. Some officers get lazy sometimes A) don’t enforce laws they consider not worth enforcing and/or B) don’t want to hassle with all the paperwork associated with responding to, reporting on, and enforcing custodial interference laws.

Instead, they will lie to your face and give you the “This is a civil matter. We do not have the authority to intervene to enforce your court orders” line in the hope that you will believe them when they tell you they cannot help you and thus stop asking them for help. [NOTE here: if you are someone who does not deal with law enforcement officers routinely, you would be pardoned for believing law enforcement officers do not lie and lie a lot. So fool you once, shame on them, fool you twice, shame on you. I know this may shock and sadden some readers—I felt that way when I discovered it and could no longer deny it.] Officers who don’t want to enforce custodial interference laws deal with parents who know of the laws on the books and aren’t fooled by the “this is a civil matter” dodge will simply threaten to arrest those parents who won’t back down for “disorderly conduct” and/or “disturbing the peace” (two favorite go to intimidation tactics that law enforcement officers frequently utilize to get people off their backs). Why? Because they can get away with it. More often than not, if you were to complain about law enforcement officers failing and refusing to enforce custodial interference laws, their superiors will nod their heads, thank you for “bringing this matter to my attention,” promise that action will be taken, wait for you to hang up the phone or leave the office, and then never give the matter a second thought.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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