The Surprising Consequences of Missed Visitation: What Every Parent Needs to Know

Divorce or separation is never easy, especially when children are involved. Custody arrangements are put in place to ensure that both parents have access to their children and that the child’s best interests are always considered. 

However, what happens when the noncustodial parent misses visitation? 

What to Do When a Noncustodial Parent Consistently Misses Visitation

When a noncustodial parent misses scheduled visitation, there are a few steps that the custodial parent can take:

1. Document the Absence

If the noncustodial parent misses visitation, the custodial parent should document the absence. This can include text messages, emails, or phone calls from the noncustodial parent explaining their absence. The custodial parent should also keep a record of missed visitation dates and times.

2. Communicate with the Noncustodial Parent

The custodial parent should communicate with the noncustodial parent to determine why they missed visitation. There may be a valid reason for the absence, such as illness or an emergency. If there is no valid reason, the custodial parent should express their concerns and make it clear that visitation is vital for the child’s well-being.

3. Try Mediation

Mediation can be a valuable tool in resolving conflicts related to missed visitation, particularly if the custodial and noncustodial parents can communicate effectively and are committed to finding a solution that works for everyone involved. Mediation has been my favorite tool for parents to use with visitation issues.

In mediation, a neutral third party will work with both parents to facilitate a discussion and help them identify areas of agreement and potential solutions. The mediator may also help the parents explore the underlying issues contributing to missed visitation and work with them to find ways to address those issues.

If the parents can reach an agreement through mediation, the mediator can help them create a written agreement outlining the new visitation schedule and any other terms they have agreed to.

For more information on mediating child custody and visitation issues, read this article: Ten Tips for Making Child Custody Mediation Successful.

3. Represent Yourself and File a Motion for Contempt of Court

A custodial parent can file a motion for contempt of court pro se (without an attorney) if the noncustodial parent consistently misses visitation and violates a court order. 

However, navigating the legal system can be complex, and an attorney can provide valuable guidance and support.

If the custodial parent decides to file a motion for contempt of court pro se, they should follow all necessary procedures and deadlines for filing and serving the motion. Filing a motion for contempt is not that difficult. Call your county clerk or look online – they may have a free form for you to use.

The custodial parent must provide evidence of the missed visitations and any other relevant information to support their case.

If the court finds that the noncustodial parent is in contempt of court, the court may order penalties such as fines or jail time. 

However, it’s important to note that the primary goal of a contempt proceeding is to ensure that the noncustodial parent complies with the court order, not to punish them.

4. Seek Legal Advice

If the noncustodial parent repeatedly misses visitation, the custodial parent may have no other choice and may need to seek legal advice. An attorney can help the custodial parent file a motion with the court to enforce the custody agreement or seek a modification of the agreement.

Legal Consequences of Missing Visitation

If a parent misses a scheduled visitation with their child, there may be legal consequences depending on the specific circumstances and the court order in place.

1. Contempt of Court

When a custody agreement is established, it is a legally binding document. If the noncustodial parent misses visitation without a valid reason, they may be held in contempt of court

Contempt of court is a serious offense that can result in fines or even jail time. The custodial parent may file a motion with the court, and the noncustodial parent will have to appear before a judge to explain their absence.

2. Modification of Custody Agreement

Repeatedly missing visitation can be grounds for the custodial parent to seek a modification of the custody agreement. 

If the noncustodial parent is not showing up for their scheduled visitation, it may be viewed as a lack of interest in the child’s well-being. The court may modify the custody agreement to limit the noncustodial parent’s visitation or terminate it altogether.

Emotional Impact of Missing Visitation

Missing scheduled visitation can have a significant emotional impact on both the parent and child involved. 

1. Child’s Feelings

Children may feel rejected or abandoned when a noncustodial parent misses visitation. They may blame themselves or feel like they are not important enough for the noncustodial parent to show up. 

This can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

2. Strained Relationship with Custodial Parent

When a noncustodial parent repeatedly misses visitation, it can strain the relationship between the custodial parent and the child. 

The custodial parent may become resentful and view the noncustodial parent as unreliable or uninterested in the child’s well-being. This can create a hostile environment for the child and make it difficult for them to have a healthy relationship with both parents.

Why is Parenting Time Important? 

Parenting time is important. It provides children with the opportunity to build and maintain a relationship with both parents. 

Spending time with both parents can help children feel loved, supported, and emotionally stable. It also allows children to develop a sense of identity and belonging that comes from having a relationship with both parents.

When communicating with a noncustodial parent who is missing visitation, it’s important to emphasize the importance of parenting time for the child’s emotional well-being. 

The custodial parent may want to highlight the following points:

  • The child’s need for a relationship with both parents: Emphasize the importance of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents.

  • The emotional impact of missed visitation: Discuss how missed visitation can cause emotional distress for the child and how consistency and reliability in visitation can help the child feel more secure and supported.

  • The long-term benefits of parenting time: Explain how consistent parenting time can help build a strong and lasting relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent, which can benefit both the child and the noncustodial parent in the long run.

  • The legal obligations of both parents: Remind the noncustodial parent of their legal obligations to comply with the court order and prioritize the child’s best interests.

By communicating the importance of parenting time in a respectful and non-judgmental way, the custodial parent can encourage the noncustodial parent to prioritize visitation and work collaboratively to find solutions to any challenges that arise.


What if the noncustodial parent misses visitation due to work obligations?

If the noncustodial parent has to miss visitation due to work obligations, they should notify the custodial parent as soon as possible and make arrangements to reschedule the visitation. If the custodial parent agrees, the noncustodial parent can make up the visitation at a later date and time convenient for both parties.

What if the noncustodial parent misses visitation without a valid reason?

If the noncustodial parent repeatedly misses visitation without a valid reason, the custodial parent may seek legal advice and file a motion with the court. The court may hold the noncustodial parent in contempt or modify the custody agreement to limit or terminate visitation.

What if the child does not want to see the noncustodial parent?

If the child does not want to see the noncustodial parent, the custodial parent should talk to the child and try to understand the reason for their reluctance. If the child is afraid or uncomfortable, the custodial parent may need to seek legal advice and ask the court to modify the custody agreement.


Missing visitation can have serious legal and emotional consequences for the noncustodial parent and child. Both parents must prioritize visitation and make every effort to adhere to the custody agreement. 

If a noncustodial parent must miss visitation, they should communicate with the custodial parent as soon as possible and make arrangements to reschedule. If a noncustodial parent repeatedly misses visitation without a valid reason, the custodial parent may need to seek legal advice and take appropriate action to protect the child’s well-being.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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