Law-abiding noncustodial parents will no longer have to deal with having their visitation rights ignored or violated thanks to legislation signed into law Tuesday. Senate Bill 1612, by Sen. Ron Sharp and Rep. Jon Echols, will ensure that custodial parents honor court-ordered visitation schedules for noncustodial parents or face punishment.
“This bill is about holding custodial parents more responsible for honoring visitation schedules. Unfortunately, the visitation rights of law-abiding noncustodial parents are continually trampled because they simply can’t afford the court costs of taking the custodial parent to court after every visitation violation,” said Sharp, R-Shawnee. “This bill keeps noncustodial parents from having to go through the hassle and expense of getting a lawyer when the custody schedule isn’t upheld by the custodial parent. They can simply fill out a form at the courthouse detailing the visitation schedule violations and the courts will reevaluate the visitation schedule and punish the violator if needs be.”
SB 1612 modifies the procedure for enforcing visitation orders of the court. It requires any order of the court providing for visitation to contain a provision stating that the custodial parent has a duty to facilitate visitation of a minor child with the noncustodial parent. In addition, the measure directs a court to award reasonable attorney fees and court costs to the prevailing party on a motion for enforcement of visitation rights.
Echols, who is a family law attorney, says violations of court-ordered visitation by custodial parents are growing at an alarming rate but the noncustodial parents typically cannot afford to fight for their rights. He also noted that a majority of District Attorney’s office in Oklahoma have a division dedicated to securing child support payments from noncustodial parents, and he’s pleased to finally see more focus being given to protecting the visitation rights of noncustodial parents.
“Currently, if a noncustodial parent is late on child support, they can face fines and jail time. Our state takes not paying child support very serious but we also need to be just as serious about custodial parents following court orders and allowing the other parent to see their children,” said Echols. “A common problem we see is that noncustodial parents usually can’t afford an attorney to fight for their visitation rights after having paid all of their child support and other support obligations. No one should have their rights violated because they can’t afford to defend themselves. This bill will give noncustodial parents the ability to fight for their visitation rights without having to worry about the expense.”
The bill allows the noncustodial parent to directly file a claim to the District Court, similar to completing a small claims form. The court will then decide whether or not an attorney is necessary to restore the visitation rights. The bill provides a template of the form that noncustodial parents can use.
“It’s emotionally devastating when one parent keeps a child away from their other parent especially because of past animosities. Those emotional issues aren’t the child’s fault and children shouldn’t be used as pawns following messy divorces,” said Sharp. “Both parents have a right to be a part of their children’s lives. This is an effort ensure both parents act responsibly and in the best interest of their children by following court orders.”
SB 1612 was strongly supported by numerous district attorneys, family law attorneys and community leaders from around the state.
The bill will go into effect November 1, 2014.