Enforcing Visitation

It’s a well-kept secret that remarkably few divorced parents actually fight about the time they spend with their children. When they do, it’s usually not about the children; it’s more likely that somebody is using the children as a weapon against his or her ex-spouse.

When your ex-spouse is denying you the visitation time you deserve, here’s the procedure I recommend before you call a lawyer. First, write a letter to the other parent reminding him or her about the visitation schedule. Then describe the ways in which the other parent’s behavior seems to you to be inconsistent with what the decree requires. As you write, make sure you confine your description to the behaviors you can observe. Avoid any attempt to describe the motivation for the other parent’s behavior or any behaviors you can’t observe. Set a specific date and time (in compliance with the decree) when you will be ready to visit with your child or children. Send the letter by certified mail.

Then be at the appointed place at the appointed date and time. Wait 20 minutes. If the other parent doesn’t show up with the children, don’t make a scene; just go home and write another letter. Again, confine your comments to the behaviors you can observe. Set another date, time, and place. Repeat the process.

If the other parent stands you up twice for appointments that are in compliance with the divorce decree, then you’re ready to contact a lawyer and file an enforcement petition. In Alabama, it’s called a Petition for Rule Nisi. (“Nisi” is pronounced with a long “i” sound for each syllable, and the accent is on the first syllable.) In the Petition for Rule Nisi, you and your lawyer will ask the judge to enforce visitation, and (typically) for the other parent to be required to reimburse you for your attorney’s fees.