When spouses with children divorce in California, child custody and child support are two critical parts of their divorce agreement. Whether spouses agree to terms outside of the courtroom in an uncontested divorce, or a judge decides on the terms of both in a divorce hearing, these two important parts of a divorce judgment are connected, but one does not depend on the other in a California divorce.

California family courts consider child support and child visitation as independent matters in a divorce agreement and in practice. To learn more about the stipulations surrounding your case, consider connecting with an experienced child support attorney in Los Angeles.

Withholding Visitation in California

In California, an important consideration for determining which parent gets primary custody is whether or not a parent demonstrates a willingness to encourage a continued close relationship between their child and the other parent. Judges seek to impress upon parents the importance of supporting this relationship by abiding by the court-ordered custody agreement and encouraging frequent close contact between the child and each parent. But what if the parent with an obligation to pay child support fails to make a payment or falls significantly into arrears? Can the other parent withhold visitation until the support payments are current?

In California, as in all states, a parent must abide by their court-ordered child custody and visitation agreement, regardless of whether or not the support payments are paid on time. A parent cannot withhold visitation from the other parent as a punishment for not paying support or as an attempt to force the parent to make the payments.

It is unlawful for parents to take the law into their own hands by failing to abide by a court order for custody and parenting time, just as it’s unlawful to fail to make child support payments.

The Child Support Obligation in California

California courts agree that both parents have an obligation to support their children. On the surface, it may seem that the court only orders one parent to pay child support, in actuality, each parent pays to support their children during their parenting time when they meet each child’s daily needs for shelter, food, clothing, education, medical expenses, and entertainment.

The way California’s child support system works, the more parenting time a parent has with their children, the less they’re required to pay the other in child support because the parent provides for their child with normal care. This concept together with the amount of each parent’s income factors into California’s formula to calculate child support payments, resulting in the higher-earning parent paying the lower-paying parent in cases of shared custody.

The receiving parent may not interfere with the paying parent’s court-ordered custody or visitation time regardless of the payment status. Attempting to withhold visitation may be held against a parent in court if the other parent files for a modification of child custody or child support.

Options for Unpaid Child Support in California

If the paying parent fails to pay court-ordered child support, the other parent has several options. They can file a complaint with their local child support enforcement organization. California’s child support agencies have the ability to garnish wages to ensure payment and take other measures, such as withholding passports. Parents with unpaid child support also have the option of filing a motion for contempt of court orders that may result in arrest.

With many tools for child support enforcement in California, no parent should choose to interfere with the other parent’s visitation as a means of forcing payment.