Child support – can visitation be withheld if one parent doesn’t pay it?

Posted in Divorce.

Of all the threats one parent can make against another parent, the threat of keeping your child from you is likely the most painful. Angry parents will look for reasons to withhold visitation, but what do the courts say about it?

The courts primary responsibility is to protect the best interest of the child. This means that regardless of child support covered medical expenses, daycare, alimony or any other financially binding items that one parent may owe another parent; this lack of payment cannot be used to keep the child from spending time with the other parent.

Children’s rights to have visitation with both parents trumps just about everything but the child’s safety. In fact, this right is so highly regarded that if a parent deliberately withheld visitation it could be seen as jeopardizing the child’s relationship with the other parent and could be used as a “material change of circumstances” to revisit the question of who the custodial parent should be.

This bears a bit more investigation to understand why visitation is deemed to be so important. A parent has the right to expect that court ordered, or agreed, child support will be paid on time. This financial transaction of “child support” is often attached to a lot of anger and bitterness between the parties. Money is used as a weapon between the parties. One parent claims they are paying the other parents bills, and another parent may use it to taunt, claiming the payment is justice for past transgressions. But did you notice what had no bearing whatsoever in this scenario, the child’s right to spend time with each parent.

Now let’s get back to the courts obligation, protecting the best interest of the child. In the above situation, the child wasn’t involved in any way, only the money to support them. So why would a loving parent use the child as a weapon against the other parent? Only a parent whose hatred and bitterness outweighed the love of their child would act this way. If a parents’ bitterness outweighed their love enough to do something to hurt the child (keeping them from seeing their other parent) this could certainly be grounds to claim “material change of circumstances” and ask the court to revisit the custody order.

It should be very clear now that while withholding child support is a serious offense, using the child as a weapon against it is a worse offense. No matter who the child’s parent is or what they do, the child has the right to have a relationship with them and interfering with that relationship, for any reason, is an extremely serious breach of the child’s rights.

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