Question: I know my ex is using meth and is putting my kids in the middle of her problem. What can I do to keep my kids safe?
Answer: At the outset, substance abuse is a very serious issue, as I am sure you know. If you have concrete proof of your ex’s abuse, please get help immediately. This may mean contacting the police or a mental illness center to assess her ability to parent your children, for their safety’s sake. Contact your community health department to learn whether you qualify for low- or no-cost services.
As for your parenting time question, you must bring this issue to the court’s attention if you want to enforce or modify your order. Whether you will prevail depends on the specific facts in your case – Do you have proof of your ex’s substance abuse or just a suspicion? Are the parenting time denials willful or accidental? And so forth. In addition to consulting a lawyer in your area for a thorough review of your case, consider these options:
Informal Court Enforcement: Research the resources in your area for parenting time and custody enforcement. Many states do not require a court motion before a judge to enforce court orders. Other resources, such as parenting time monitors, counselors, and custody mediators, exist. In Michigan, for example, parents who have missed visitation with their children may file a complaint to request make up time within 56 days of the missed visit. A parenting time counselor will review the complaint and issue an opinion in writing to both parents within 21 days. You should consult with a lawyer to learn about the resources available to you.
Contempt: If your ex simply refuses to follow your court’s order, consider filing a motion to have your judge hold her in contempt for disobedience. The judge will order her to comply, perhaps with make up parenting time, and you will create a record of your denied time in the event you need to modify the order later. The procedures for these motions vary by jurisdiction.
Motion to Modify: If your ex purposely denies your time or if you have proof beyond a hunch that she is abusing drugs again, consider filing a motion to modify physical custody or parenting time. The standards vary by state. In general, your unhappiness with the order is not enough; you must show a proper cause or change in circumstances since the last order to justify the change. Some states require a higher burden if you are not a joint physical custodian. These motions generally require more time, in and out of court, than the resources mentioned above and thorough preparation. The long-term benefits could be worth the effort, however.
Document. Be sure to document when you will exercise parenting time and what happens if parenting time goes awry. Confirm the dates you intend to exercise parenting time in writing. Include contact information where you can be reached in the event of a last-minute schedule change. Keep a journal to document your concerns – Was your ex late for pick up or drop off? How did the exchange go? How did she appear (e.g. high)? Who else was present? This is somewhat therapeutic, and it will also refresh your memory when discussing your case with a lawyer and if you need to testify in the future. Be precise and professional, and avoid any nasty naming calling – writings from you may be admissible in court as substantive evidence or for impeachment.
Keep in mind that I am a Michigan attorney and cannot give you detailed advice about the laws in Tennessee. You should not rely on this answer as establishing an attorney-client relationship, and you should contact an attorney in your area immediately for additional information and representation. Cordell & Cordell has an office in Tennessee if you wish to discuss your case with us.
Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.