Police Enforcement of Child Custody Orders in California

Child custody orders are useless without proper enforcement. Here’s what you need to know about whether or not police enforce child custody in California.

In California, child custody orders have the force of law, which means that violation of child custody orders amounts to a violation of the law. Police officers, therefore, are able to enforce child custody orders if a parent contacts the local police department. However, there are other ways to enforce child custody orders, and it is recommended that anyone dealing with this issue contact a lawyer.

What is Child Custody?

Child custody refers to the separated or divorced parents’ rights and responsibilities in regards to taking care of their children. There are two categories of custody in California: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the ability to make important decisions for the child, such as medical or education decisions. Physical custody, however, generally refers to who the child lives with.

Child custody can be either joint or sole, which means that custody can be shared between parents or held entirely by one parent. In the case of a divorce or a separation, a parent can request a child custody order if the parents cannot agree on a child custody arrangement or would simply prefer to have a legally enforceable agreement.

Related: How to File for Child Custody in California

Police and Child Custody Orders

Child custody orders are legitimate court orders, which means they have the force of law behind them. As such, if a parent violates the child custody order, they have broken the law. Because the purpose of the police is to enforce the law, they absolutely can and do enforce child custody orders. However, it is very important that the child custody order specifically states key aspects of the child custody arrangement in order for the police to adequately be able to enforce orders. These clearly-defined aspects include (but are not limited to):

  • Where the child will be on birthdays (including parents’ birthdays)
  • Where the child will be on specific holidays
  • With whom and how often the child will go on vacations
  • How the child will be transported between parents

Related: How to Make a Child Visitation Schedule in California

Without clear language describing where the child should legally be, it is more difficult for police to enforce the order. It is also imperative that a parent keeps a copy of the court order in a safe place in their home for easy access if the police become involved. Furthermore, it is recommended that any person involved in the visitation arrangement has their own copy as they will oversee the transition of the child from one parent to another. These people can include teachers or other neutral third parties and can inform police of custody violations if a problem occurs.

If a parent would like the police to enforce their order, they should contact their local police department and request that they enforce the order. However, there are other ways to enforce child custody orders.

Other Methods of Child Custody Order Enforcement in California

If a parent is routinely being denied access to their child as outlined in a child custody order, the situation can rise to the level of child abduction under California law. In more serious scenarios such as this, a parent can contact the Child Abduction and Recovery Unit at their local District Attorney’s office and should follow all instructions given. It is important that the parent does not attempt to take the law into their own hands by simply refusing to comply with a custody order if they believe that the other parent is denying them access to the child. Such action could also amount to an illegal violation of the order.

A parent can also file an action for contempt with the court if they believe the other parent is purposefully disobeying the order. To file an action for contempt is to ask the court to enforce the child custody order and find that the other parent willfully disobeyed the order. The potential consequences of such action can be serious for the other parent, including fines and jail time. As such, filing an action for contempt is only recommended in serious scenarios in which a parent is willfully and frequently violating the child custody order. This can become quite complicated, and so it is recommended that a parent in this situation contact an expert family law attorney.

FAQs About How Police Enforce Child Custody Orders in California

My child custody order says I’m supposed to have physical custody of my children on the weekends, but my ex-partner is refusing to bring them over. Can I call the police?

Yes. Your ex-partner is violating the law by violating the child custody order, and so the police can be called to enforce it.

My child custody order is vague and says that my ex-partner and I should each have about half of the physical custody time of our children, but my ex-partner has refused to bring them over for a long time. Can the police enforce the order?

Maybe. It is more difficult for child custody orders to be enforced if they do not specifically detail aspects of the custody arrangement. They would be more likely to enforce the order if you have a detailed record of the amount of time that your ex-partner has had custody of the children and the times that they have refused to give you the children.

My ex-partner has frequently violated our child custody order, and I have not seen my children in a very long time. What should I do?

Contact the Child Abduction and Recovery Unit at your local District Attorney’s office and follow their instructions. Also, it is recommended that you contact an expert family law attorney to aid you through this process.

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If you or a loved one have any more questions about whether or not police can enforce child custody orders in California, contact us. Get connected to an attorney with one of our experienced Family Law Attorneys today!