Considerations for Family Access Motions (“FAMs”)

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Family law is an emotionally-charged area of law that deals with family-related matters, often including children. When a relationship ends, custody and visitation orders are promptly addressed within the decree. This court ordered custody becomes a serious feature of the decree, influencing the future relationship that children sustain with both parents. Child visitation matters can be challenging and often entail a variety of hurdles, such as out-of-state-parents and step-parents.

Following court-ordered visitation can be difficult. Though the intent may start out positive, misinterpreting orders, misunderstanding expectations, scheduling conflicts or communication challenges can create many problems.  Though some instances of visitation violation are unavoidable and may show good cause, abusing that situation, or repeat occurrences create unwanted problems for all parties involved. Because of this, parents often forget that their anger and frustration toward each other is a battle between two adults and should not include the children.

KidsHowever, if you feel your court-ordered visitation rights are being violated, a Family Access Motion (“FAM”) should be filed to restore visitation rights. But how do you know when to file a FAM? Ask yourself a few preliminary questions:

  • What is the situation?
  • Why is visitation being violated?
  • How long has it been a recurring event?

A one-time occurrence is not reasonable cause to seek a FAM. Neither are statements made by the other parent, such as:

  • “I don’t want to share my child.”
  • “It’s too inconvenient.”
  • “My ex is a bum.”

Before we go on, know that the Family Access Motion differs from a request to modify custody. While FAM is the action to seek when the ordered visitation has been violated, the Motion to Modify is a request to change the existing court order for visitation and/or custody.

On the other hand, if your custody and parenting rights have been violated, then the Family Access Motion might be the appropriate action to take. To start the process, you should consider:

  • Consulting with an attorney experienced in this field to review the divorce judgment in regard to visitation;
  • Preparing a list of specific examples in which your visitation has been violated.

Upon filing a Family Access Motion, a hearing will be set, and if one parent is found to be in violation, the following penalties may apply:

  • Counseling to help reestablish relationships and heal damage caused by visitation separation;
  • A fine of up to $500;
  • Compensatory time for the visitation time missed with the child;
  • Required counseling concerning the importance of providing the child with a continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents;
  • Posting a bond to ensure future compliance with the new judgment;
  • Pay the cost of counseling to re-establish the parent-child relationship.

If visitation is further denied, more serious penalties such as contempt could apply.

The Law Offices of Kathleen E. Shaul believe that in most situations, it is in the best interest of the child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. She reminds birth parents that if something should happen (death, illness, accident) to one parent, there is a possibility that the child will go to live with the surviving parent. At the time of separation or divorce, she advises that parents maintain the custody arrangements agreed upon by the parents or ordered by the court, despite how difficult this task might seem.

One such case Kathleen dealt with demonstrates the necessity to abide by court judgments. Mother and father divorced and court-ordered visitation was established for their child. Mother remarried and moved out of state with her new husband. Soon after this move, the mother and step-father refused to allow the child to have visitation with his birth father, claiming the situation was ‘inconvenient’. The end result was that the child became unfamiliar with his father. In the meantime, mother developed cancer and died several years later. While the step-father petitioned the court for adoption, the birth father became aware of the situation and intervened.

The birth father contacted Kathleen Shaul insisting he never gave up custody and expressed his desire to have his child returned. Within weeks, the birth father was awarded custody of the child, and the transition for the child was much harder due to his mother’s deviation from the court-ordered visitation years ago.

This is an extreme, but real case. It demonstrates the necessity to obey visitation rights for the benefit of the child. While at times it may seem inconvenient to fulfill the requirements, it is important to keep in mind the child’s need to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents.

Are you or someone you know having problems with court-ordered child visitation? Do you have questions about child visitation or child custody?  Do you feel as if your custodial arrangement should be modified? Kathleen Shaul and her legal team are available to handle your questions and concerns.

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