Monday, June 28, 2010

Child Custody: Consequences of Interference with Custodial Time

One of the most important aspects of successful parenting after a separation or divorce is ensuring that the children have quality and uninterrupted time with both parents. Quality time encompasses the development of a meaningful time share that is honored by both parents. Unfortunately, there are times a parent fails to understand their role as ambassador for their children: a parent may behave in inappropriate and harmful ways by frustrating the parenting time with the other parent and say and do things that negatively influence the child and damage the relationship between the child and the other parent.

The family law courts have zero tolerance for this kind of bad behavior. Over the last few decades, the courts have addressed parental alienation and time share frustration in a number of ways. Since the court recognizes the extreme importance that the child maintain a good and nurturing relationship with both parents, the court will issue orders to preserve that relationship.

Co-parenting counseling, counseling with the child and parent and other therapeutic interventions may be the best course to correct the situation. The family law judge has the power to issue these and other tailor made orders for the protection of the child and the preservation of child's relationship to the parents.

If the offending parent persists in this emotionally damaging conduct, More extreme measures can be implemented by the court which can include restricting the offending parent's time with the child and restraining orders on the parent's conduct.

In re Marriage of Hartmann (6/23/10) 2 Civ B215917, Div 6 (Gilbert) 2010 WL 2510383 is a recent published California family law opinion of how the court interprets inappropriate conduct and how to address the behavior in this case with restraining orders.

In this case the father asked the court to issue an order restraining mom from, among other things, “ ‘interfering with [father's] custodial time.’” In support of his request, father claimed that mom told the children “every detail of the trial,” after which the children told him that they believed that “he won because he lied on the stand,” that he sought joint custody so that he’d pay lower child support, and that he and mom could ignore the family law custody and school placement orders.

At hearing on these issues, both parents presented evidence. When the hearing ended,the trial court concluded that mom alienated the children from father by word, deed, and demeanor. Accordingly, the judge granted father's request for a restraining order. At a later hearing father filed a contempt, asserting that mom persisted in interfering with his custody time. Father claims that mom refused to tell him where one of his children was, and mom continued to talk to the children about attending boarding school when the court issued an earlier order allowing them to attend public school.

Mom moved to vacate father's restraining order, claiming that the order not to "interfere" with father's time was vague and ambiguous.The court denied her motion and again ordered mom restrained from interfering with father's custody time. Mom appealed and the appellate court held that the term “interfere” is not ambiguous and that the restraining order did not violate mom's right of free speech because other California family law cases establish that the family law court has the authority to restrict a parent's speech in order to protect children.

If a parent is denying visitation, saying harmful things to the children and /or in other ways frustrating the parent child relationship, the family law judge has the power to take action. Knowing what to say as well as when and how to present your custody issues to the court will control the outcome of the court's orders. For these reasons, it is critical that you have a skilled family law attorney on your side assisting you on bringing your case before the court.