Can I Legally Go to My Dad’s on a Day That Is Written as My Mom’s in the Custody Agreement?

Great question (and it’s good to see questions from children).

No one can give you “the” answer to this question without knowing the laws of the jurisdiction involved and what the court order of child custody and visitation/parent-time provides, but I can answer the question generally. If you want more than that, you will need to consult with an attorney licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction where the court order of child custody and visitation/parent-time was issued.

Note first that there is nothing that prevents the parents from agreeing to deviate from a custody and/or parent time schedule and letting the child spend time at mom’s house when he should be at dad’s house and vice versa on occasion. most parents and children will encounter situations where that’s not only a good idea but may be necessary from time to time.

Generally speaking, a child is not a party to the divorce or child custody proceedings that result in an award of physical custody of the child and kind of ward of visitation (also known as “parent time” in some jurisdictions), which means that an order awarding custody of a child to one parent or the other is not binding upon the child himself or herself. Otherwise stated, if a parent were to withhold or attempt to withhold custody or parent-time from the other parent in violation of the court’s orders, then that parent could be held in contempt by the court, sanctioned (penalized in the form of fines, incarceration, and other penalties) and likely prosecuted for violation of criminal statutes prohibiting parental kidnapping and or custodial interference. But if a child is not a party to the divorce or other kinds of child custody proceedings (and in most jurisdictions of which I’m aware, children aren’t), then technically a child could not be held in contempt of court if that child does not comply with the custody and or parent-time orders.

Sometimes courts will blame an innocent parent or a child’s noncompliance with the custody and or parent- time orders. Sometimes the court will blame the innocent parent mistakenly. that’s understandable. Nobody’s perfect, and that includes judges and their perceptions of the situation. But sometimes a judge may punish or threaten to punish an innocent parent knowing or at least believing that the parent is innocent yet punishes the innocent parent in the hope that doing so will cause the disobedient and noncompliant child to get in line.

Another thing that I have seen courts do when children are disobedient and noncompliant with custody and parent-time orders is penalize the child by modifying the custody and or parent- time orders such that the child cannot play or interact with friends if the child does not comply, cannot obtain a driver’s license or drive a car unless the child complies, or cannot participate in after school activities like clubs and athletics unless the child complies. I’m not sure that a court has that power. Doing such things sure looks like the court is treating the child as a party to the proceedings, but a clever court could argue that it is not directing these orders to the child himself or herself, but is simply treating the symptoms of a problem that involves the child without directly targeting the child personally.

Bottom line: if children want to be rebellious and defy court orders of custody and parent time, they can and often do get away with it as long as they don’t press their luck too far. In stating this, I’m not suggesting that children should be disobedient or not compliant, I’m just acknowledging that as long as it doesn’t happen very often, parents either don’t make it an issue for the courts to address, or even if the courts do address it, they they’ll wag their fingers have the children at warn them not to press their luck too far. If a child stays noncompliant, there can be unpleasant consequences to the parents and children if the court feels inclined to impose them.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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