In the separation or divorce judgment, one parent might be given custody (“droit de garde”) of a child(ren) and the other visitation rights (“droit de visite”), while the parental authority (“autorité parentale”) is nowadays almost automatically a joint one.
The purpose of visitation rights is to allow a child to maintain regular contacts with both parents, all stemming from the underlying principle of the child’s best interest. If visitation rights cannot be agreed on by the parents themselves, they are decided by a judge. A minimum in the French-speaking part of Switzerland is every second weekend and half of the school holidays.
All good, but what happens if visitation rights are not respected? For example, the parent does not pick up the child at the agreed time, consistently brings the child back late or even refuses to spend some holiday time with him/her.
These are unfortunately quite common issues and, as confirmed to me by a legal professional, there is no possibility to judicially enforce visitation rights. In other words, even if the judgement says so, a parent cannot be forced to respect them.
While very disappointing, this makes sense. Imagine the police bringing a child to the parent’s doorsteps, “forcing” the person to take care of him/her. Besides being completely ineffective, imagine the stress this would cause for the child.
So, what can one do when visitation rights are not respected? Communications between the parents is of course key. Try to explain to the other parent what kind of impact this might have on the child’s well-being. However, choose your words and approach carefully. Too much insisting might backfire and in the worst case scenario the parent might feel under attack and give up on seeing the child completely.
Having been in a similar situation myself and after many failed attempts of trying to explain the child’s needs, I finally decided to let it go. My girl got used to spending only a limited amount of time with her father and as long as there is regularity to it, I do not question the arrangement anymore.
In case of regular breaches of visitation rights, it makes sense keeping track of these. If you feel that it is impossible to find a solution acceptable for everyone, you can approach the Service de protection des mineurs (SPMi). Its broad mandate includes providing advice in this sort of cases and it can also raise the issue with the parent in question. Here are SPMi’s contact details:
Boulevard de Saint-Georges 16-18, 1205 Genève
Opening hours from Monday to Friday, 8 to 12.30 am and 1.30 to 5 pm
And finally, do not be tempted to use visitation rights as a bargaining chip in case of other difficulties in the relationship between the parents, such as non-payment of the contribution for the child ordered by the court. This is something that will be addressed in one of my future posts.