Enforce a custody order

There are steps you can take if you think the other parent will not follow a custody order. If they have already violated the order, you also have options. A court order has the force of law. This means it can be enforced by a judge or law enforcement.

It's easier to follow and enforce a clear and detailed court order.

You can use court forms to help you create detailed custody and visitation schedules, and other orders to restrict travel or require supervised visitation. This section includes the names and links to forms you may want to use.

What you can do if

Have a clear and detailed order

An order with clear details about decision making and visitation

  • Can prevent misunderstandings
  • Makes clear what's expected
  • Is easier to enforce

If you ever need the police to enforce your order, they will need to be able to easily understand what the order says each of you must do or not do.

For example, if there's a time something must be done, like drop off for visitation, the order should give a specific time of day and exact location. It can also say how the exchange will work. For example, a parent stays in the car or you all meet inside a public place.

You can use forms to help you write your custody and parenting time agreement or submit them to the judge when you ask for a custody order. You can start with the Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Attachment (form FL-311).

There are other forms for more details. For example, you may also want to use a

  • Children’s Holiday Schedule Attachment (form FL-341(C))

    Use this to create a parenting schedule for holidays and school breaks. You can also use it to create a vacation schedule. It includes details like when a parent must let the other one know about vacation plans and whether the vacation can be outside California. 

  • Additional Provisions — Physical Custody Attachment (form FL-341(D))

    Includes how to handle many common issues, like when you must let the other parent know about plans to move and give them a new address, what happens if you need to cancel a visit, and scheduling calls between parents and child.

  • Joint Legal Custody Attachment (form FL-341(E))

    For parents with joint custody, this lets you make specific rules about certain decisions. For example, what happens when you disagree about school enrollment or when you must let the other parent know about a child's health exam or treatment.

Keep a copy of the order in a safe place and give a copy to others as needed

Having a copy helps if there's disagreement about what it says. The police may need to see the order to enforce it. Give a copy to anyone involved in visitation or the custody order. For example, your child's daycare may need a copy of the order if it says who can pick up a child.

Keep a record of any violations

This can help if you later need to change or enforce your order. For example, if the other person is always an hour late to exchanges, you should write down the dates and times. Keep a record of any communications, like texts and emails.

Get an updated order if things change

If things change significantly, get a new court order that has the changes in it. You and the other parent can either agree to update the order or you can ask a judge to change the order

What you do depends in part on what the violation is and how serious it is. Keep a record of any violations. This can help if you decide you do want to enforce an order. You have different options.

  • Contact the local police department and ask them to enforce

    Make sure you have a copy of the current order to give them. 

  • Contact the district attorney in your county

    If you think the parent has abducted your child, you can request help from the child abduction unit of your county district attorney's office. 

  • File a contempt of court 

    These are for cases where the parent is intentionally violating the order. In a contempt case, you ask the judge to enforce the order and make a finding that the other parent willfully disobeyed the court order. This is very complicated and can have serious consequences for the other parent, even jail time. Talk to a lawyer to get help with it.

  • Get an updated order

    You can ask to change the order. Your new order could include more details and have terms that address any issues. You can ask to change an order if the other parent has blocked your access to your child. 

Enforcing an order can be complicated. You may need advice from a lawyer. You can also find out more about your options from your court's Self-Help Center.

Have a clear order with detailed information about travel 

Law enforcement or airline staff may not be able to stop a kidnapping if the order is not clear. A clear order could

  • List the exact time, location, and manner of any custody exchanges
  • Prohibit travel with the child
  • Require supervised visitation
  • State who can apply for or keep a child's passport

Ask for a Child Abduction Prevention Order

You can ask for a judge to make an order to help prevent child abduction. For example, you can ask the judge to order supervised visitation or restrict the parent from taking the child out of the county, state, or country. In your request, you will need to explain why you think the other parent may take your child without permission. 

To make the request, you file a Request for Order (form FL-300). Then  

  • Attach Request for Child Abduction Prevention Orders (form FL-312). Check the boxes for each order you would like the judge to make.
  • If you request supervised visitation, also attach the Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment (form FL-311). Check the boxes in item 3 for supervised visitation.Then, attach a Declaration that explains why unsupervised visitation would be bad for the child. You can use the Attachment to Judicial Council Form (form MC-025) to write your Declaration. 

If the judge grants your request, they will sign a Child Abduction Prevention Order Attachment (form FL-341b) and Supervised Vistation Order (form FL-341b) (if you requested supervised vistation). 

Get step-by-step instructions on how to ask for an order.

Other precautions you may want to take

Government agencies, like the US State Department, and non-profits that specialize in cases of missing children will have many resources for precautions you may want to take. For example, you may want to

  • Keep a record of the other parent's family or friend's addresses and telephone numbers

  • Keep a record of information about the other parent you may have, like their social security number, driver's license number, and vehicle description, and plate number
  • Keep a written description of the parent - their height, weight, hair and eye color, and a recent picture if you have one
  • Take full-faced pictures or videos of your child every 6 months
  • Enroll in the Children's Passport Issuance Alert program to get alerted about any passport applications for your child

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests that you teach your children to use the telephone, memorize your phone number and that you instruct them to call you immediately if anything unusual happens. 

Get legal advice. 

Talk to a lawyer about your concerns. They can advise you on your legal options to keep your child safe, such as getting a court order that restricts travel with your child or only allows supervised visitations. 

Take immediate steps to stop an abduction in progress

Contact the U.S. State Department's Office of Children's Issue at 1-888-407-4747 any time.

The U.S. State Department suggests you

  1. Get a court order if you do not have one
  2. Contact law enforcement (they will need a copy of the order)
  3. Contact airport police and airlines

Get help from an experienced lawyer

Family court orders are rarely enforceable internationally. In some cases, if the country where your child is located is a signatory to an international treaty, like the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, then it is possible that the country will enforce the order and help to return your child to the United States.

The Hague Convention is complicated as are international child abduction cases. Talk to a lawyer with experience in international abduction cases. You may also need a lawyer in the country where your child is located.

The U.S. State Department has a lot of resources and tips

The Office of Children's Issues at the U.S. State Department can provide you with information and direct you to resources that can help return your child to the United States. Contact the Officer of Children's Issues for more information

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