My ex won't pay child support. Can I withhold visitation?

It can certainly be frustrating not to receive the child support the family court has ordered. For a custodial parent who relies on that money to meet the children's basic needs, the holidays can be a particularly exasperating time for your kids' other parent to come up short. It can put you in a tough position: Do you take the other parent to court right before a big family holiday? Or do you skimp on presents while the other parent seems to have plenty of cash?

If you've ever been in this situation, you might be tempted just to tell your ex that he or she won't be getting any visitation until that child support is paid up. That ought to work -- but is it legal?

Not in Minnesota. There are probably few if any states where such a tradeoff would be considered reasonable or in the children's best interest. Also, keep in mind that these are court orders, which means you don't have the authority to act unilaterally.

As a matter of fact, Minnesota's statute on parenting time specifically states that "a parent's failure to pay support because of the parent's inability to do so shall not be sufficient cause for denial of parenting time." Moreover, there could be very serious, negative consequences for you -- including the possibility of losing custody.

If you deny your ex parenting time and the court determines that decision was unwarranted or wrongful, Minnesota law allows the court to:

  • Require you to arrange make-up parenting time of the same value, at the other parent's convenience, within a year.
  • Fine you $500.
  • Require you to post a bond to guarantee your future compliance with the parenting order.
  • Require you to pay the other parent's legal fees and costs related to challenging the violation.
  • Require you to post a bond to guarantee you'll pay those fees and costs.
  • Order anything else it determines to be in the children's best interest.
  • Hold you in contempt of court.

According to Minnesota law, proof that you denied visitation in violation of an established parenting order can even be sufficient cause to reverse custody.

If your ex won't pay child support, there are effective enforcement remedies available, but you need to do it right. Before you take any action against your ex, discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney.

Source: 2014 Minnesota Statutes, Domestic Relations, §518.175, "Parenting Time"

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