Problems relating to interference of parenting

 

Interference of parenting is child abuse!

The Family Justice Review Committee believes in a number of basic principles when it comes to the issue of interference of parenting.  Some of these principles are:

  • That parents who interfere with a child's parenting time with another parent are indeed perpetrating a form of emotional abuse and that interference in a parent-child bond may not only produce lifelong alienation from a loving parent, but lifelong psychiatric disturbance in the child.  A parent who interferes with access is bringing about a disruption of a psychological bond that could, in the vast majority of cases, prove of great value to the child, regardless of the relationship between the parents.

  • Parents who interfere with access are failing to act in the best interests of their own child and are in fact failing in their duties as parents.

  • That the courts must give serious consideration to interference of parenting when deciding the custodial status of the parent.

Divorced parents who intentionally interfere with their child parenting time with the other parent pose special difficulties not only for the children and the families involved, but also for the courts. Interference of access  is one of the most commonly reported abuses of children by their parent with interference being carried out in the vast majority of times by the parent who has sole custodial status.

Interference of parenting can be so stressful and emotionally charged that some parents have been known to murder a parent who was denying access to the children.  Most professionals refer to the condition where children become alienated from their parents as Parental Alienation Syndrome.

Garbarino and Stott (1992) consider Parental Alienation Syndrome to be an example of what they refer to as "the psychologically battered child" and describe it specifically, by name, as one form of child battering. Rogers (1992) identifies five types of psychological maltreatment: rejecting, terrorizing, ignoring, isolating, and corrupting, and then describes how each of these types may be seen in the Parental Alienation Syndrome. The courts would do well for the child to consider the parent denying access as a serious parental deficit when weighing the pros and cons of which parent may be best suited for custody.. Any form of emotional abuse must given serious consideration when weighing all of the factors considered relevant in determining the "best interest of the child"  (Link to "Best interests of child")

In is crucial that the courts take all necessary steps to ensure that the bond between the child and one parent is  protected from the actions of the other parent who abuses the child through interference of access.

If any parents have any doubts about the long term effect of interference of access on children and how this ultimately backfires on the parents in later years should read this tragic letter from one girl to her mother shortly after she turned 18 years of age.   This girl's mother denied access to this girl's father when she was only 4 years of age. Link to letter yet the girl still remembered.   In this case the mother tried to move the children away to a northern Ontario community so that their father could not see them.

SOME INTERFERENCE STRATEGIES

  • When standard visitation guidelines are imposed, the interfering parent will choose not to comply.  They will often not show up at neutral sites or continuously be late.

  • The interfering parent will intentionally arrange other activities for the children when it is time for the children to be with the other parent and then tell the other parent that the children don't want to come over to visit.

  • Call the child at frequent intervals to interfere with the other parent's parenting time.

  • The interfering parent will choose babysitters or daycare providers that are friend who side with the interfering parent.  Often the other parent is not even allowed any input to the selection of a babysitter.

  • When the police are called to assist in a visitation transfer, they will be told that the nonresidential parent got the dates mixed up and is "out of turn"; if the court order is date and time specific, the child will be elsewhere or will have been manipulated to "act out" in such a way that the police officer is unwilling to intervene.

  • The interfering parent may do whatever is necessary to prevent the other parents from visiting their child at school.  The interfering parent may tell the principal that the non-custodial parent has no school visitation rights; the teacher may be told that the visiting parent is likely to kidnap the child; the guidance counselor may be told there are legal papers restricting access to the child. In extreme cases, the interfering parent may transfer the child to another school

  • The interfering parent may become a school volunteer for the purpose of policing the child's classroom and making the other parent uncomfortable with coming to the school.

  • The non-custodial parent's access to the child's extracurricular activities also may be a target. For example, if the non-custodial parent attempts to watch the child play on the Little League baseball team, the custodial parent may use the same "tricks" he or she used at school. As a result, the coach may be afraid to give the non-custodial parent a copy of the team schedule and/or other parents may avoid the visiting parent as though he or she has the plague.

In each of the examples above, the interfering parent gets just what he or  she is after, usually the feeling of power and a sense of revenge against the other parent.   Outsiders often prefer not to get involved, so no one with authority is monitoring the situation. As a consequence, the child and the non-custodial parent lose a precious part of their life together. For the child the damage is life-long.

What can be done to stop interference of parenting

Just like children learn by teaching them consequences, parents who interfere with a child's parenting time with the other parent must be taught that there are consequences for emotionally abusing their child through interference of parenting. The court must be effective in ensuring that consequences are administered.  Parents who learn that violating a Court Order does not have any consequences will only be encouraged to violate again.

In one case in Oshawa, Ontario, a vindictive custodial mother was found in contempt of a court Order 60 times for violating the children's parenting time with the father, yet, when the judge passed sentence, he ordered the mother to pay a $1 (one dollar) fine.  Needless, to say, that as soon as the mother walked out from the courtroom, she continued to prevent the children from seeing their father and to this day the children are unable to see their father.  Yet the father was ordered to pay the mother $600 per month in child support while the court did nothing to help the children maintain their relationship with their father.  The legal process eventually bankrupted the father and after the father ran out of money, the Ontario Government took away his drivers license.  He was then forced onto poverty and onto welfare.

To stop the needless abuse of children, the Courts must:

  • As a first step, to ensure fairness and to ensure in its orders that BOTH parents are treated equally. This is the most powerful and effective way for the court to gain respect for its orders..

  • Shared parenting and shared responsibilities in raising the child must be given top consideration.  When both parents know that they have a legally recognized status in their child's life, then both parents will focus on maintaining their status by being the best parent they can rather than trying to get the other parent out of the child's life and risk having their parenting status removed by the court.

  • Provide BOTH parents the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to parent the child before making any final custody Order.  When both parents know they will have the opportunity to demonstrate their parenting abilities their will be less incentive to make false allegations during the early stages of separation.

  • All factors considered relevant to the "best interest of the child" must be considered each and every time that matters affecting custody are reviewed.  Special considerations must be made to the parent that demonstrates the willingness and disposition to promote a relationship with the other parent and to consistently act in the best interests of the child.

  • In severe cases, where parents flaunt the law, and continue to abuse their child by interference of access, then imprisonment must be considered as an option.

In summary, the courts can be effective tool in eliminating child abuse caused by interference of access, providing they exercise their power in an appropriate and measured manner.

WHAT MAKES AN EFFECTIVE COURT ORDER?

Some of the points that an effective Court order will include

  • a clearly specified hierarchy of penalties for the custodial parent based on the nature of the offenses committed: The court order should provide clear-cut provisions for how a situation is to be handled if a parent violates the terms of the order. The penalties should be clearly outlined in a step-by-step manner and administered as required.  

  • The court must be willing to carry out those penalties as necessary to ensure that the parents respect the Order of the Court.

  • Court Orders must clearly specify the dates, rimes, and conditions of visitation exactly. The court cannot leave it up to the custodial parent to carry out the visitation. It must direct all the parties around the custodial parent to comply, not only one of the parents.  All loopholes typically found in most traditional court Orders must be closed up.

  • Specifically, in situations where one of the parent has been late in exchanging a child, that make up times be allotted to the other parent including a penalty.  In this way, the interfering parent learns that there is nothing to gain by attempting to interfere with the child's access to the other parent.

  • Order that a third party to monitor the family and act as a mediator and/or conflict resolution person. This will help ensure that the parents mind their manners until such time as they have learned new skills to cope with a co-parenting arrangement and cooler emotions prevail.

  • appointment of an individual to monitor and supervise the parents until such time as the parents have developed new skills as parents and have addressed their hostile emotions.  The monitor should be someone who is agreeable to both parties or someone in whom the court has confidence. 

  • precise authorization for parents to have the rights to any and all records and information from the school and to permit both parents free access to the child during school hours.

  • precise authorization for both parents to deal with all personnel involved in any activity involving the child to provide whatever rightful access is due the non-custodial parent: The court order should state clearly that any individual representing any organization that involves the child, be it educational, financial, medical, professional, recreational, religious, or otherwise, is instructed to provide both parents full and open access to any and all activities, information, schedules, and any other pertinent items or knowledge relevant to their involvement with the child.

  • A clause to reserve the right of the parents, upon mutual consent to make minor changes to the contents of the court order so that it can be flexible to meet changing needs.

  • In higher conflict situations it is suggested that a precisely defined neutral location for visitation transfers be chosen.   Ideally, the chosen site should be in a neutral setting where conflict is less likely to occur and when there is no strategic advantage for the interfering parent. Examples include the lobby of a police station, a church leader's office, the main entrance to a shopping center, the home of a mutually agreeable third party such as a family coordinators, or an access center.

  • A clause to reserve the right of the court to modify the contents of the court order at any time and the right to enforce it in any manner deemed necessary.  This clause provides the court full discretion for the implementation, modification, and enforcement of the court order.

  • A non interference clause that clearly state that any individual involved in any activity with the child to not engage in any behavior that would cause interference with the relationship between the child and either of the parents.  The court order should state clearly that this directive applies to any individual involved with the child in any capacity (such as group functions, instructional activities, professional activities, recreational events, team sports, etc.), including but not limited to friends, relatives, neighbors, professionals, and other acquaintances.

Many time parents who interfere with access, do so without those around them knowing what they are doing.  Parents will sometimes deny access and then tell neighbours that the other parent did not show up.  Interfering parents, in general, know that interference in access is wrong and will attempt to continue to do so providing that they feel that they can do it without others around them knowing the truth.  If a parent knows that their friends and neighbours will find out about what they are doing, in most cases they will cease their behaviour.

  • In some cases, the court may direct the violating parent to make his or her problem with visitation interference a public event: the court might make the violating parent's "recovery" public as well. Thus, one might consider having the violating parent:

  • apologize to the children and victimized parent in the courtroom and promise to not interfere again; 

  • write a letter of apology to other involved individuals, such as school personnel, team sports coaches, and the like; or sign a statement affirming commitment to the contents of the court order and requesting anyone who reads it to abide by it.