One of the most challenging issues in any divorce case is parental interference. When a divorce decree is signed, parents either agree to a time-sharing schedule with their children, or, in litigated cases where they can’t agree to the schedule, cede that decision to a judge who creates a schedule for them. Before a divorce is finalized, standing orders can help orchestrate time-sharing schedules and make sure that each parent gets a reasonable amount of time with their children.
However, in cases of parental interference, one parent will unilaterally decide to keep his or her children from the other parent.
Sometimes, it’s a strategic move in preparing for an adversarial divorce – and might be accompanied by a smear campaign to “help” the children with their testimony in determining primary or even sole “custody” of the children.
Sometimes – especially once a divorce decree becomes legally binding – parental interference is used as a form of punishment. For example, if the father isn’t making child support payments to the mother, the mother may decide to deny the father timesharing with the children in retaliation.
When faced with these cases with my own clients, I first look at what can be done outside the court system. In my experience with Collaborative divorces, I know the value that mental health professionals can bring to the process. Sometimes, parental interference is just a way for a parent to try to get control of a difficult situation – more of a reaction than a calculated plan to deny a parent of time with his or her children. Mental health professionals trained in the Collaborative Process are familiar with the emotions stirred up by divorce, as well as strategies to help everyone through those emotions.
But in cases where parental interference is a deliberate lack of cooperation and a denial of the other parent’s rights, legal action may be the only way to resolve these cases. If you find yourself in such a situation, make sure you disclose as much information as possible to your lawyer, especially where it concerns the children’s well-being. A parent who willfully and deliberately engages in parental interference will likely see legal action as an attack, and in an effort to put up a defense. The situation might get even more challenging in the short term. But if the court has determined you are a fit parent, you shouldn’t cede the right you have to be with your children, regardless of how challenging it might be.