In an ideal world, parenting issues would be resolved amicably between adults, without involving the relationship between parent and child. In many cases, however, disagreements between parents can result in parenting time interference, or even the claims of parental alienation syndrome.
Parental time interference occurs when a parent actively disrupts another's allotted time with their child. In some cases this can be treated as a criminal or civil offense. Parental alienation syndrome, on the other hand, is a psychological theory used to describe the development of unjustified anger and estrangement of a child from one of its parents.
What Counts as Parenting Time Interference?
When two parents split custody of a child, they will often create a parenting time agreement, visitation agreement, or other arrangement governing each parent's right to time with their child. These agreements may be informal, but having them approved by a court will help you enforce your rights under the plan. Parenting time interference occurs when one parent's court-ordered parental time rights are denied or obstructed, directly or indirectly.
Interference with parenting time can take many forms. In the most drastic cases, one parent may physically prevent a child from seeing his or her parent by taking the child without permission, refusing to return the child, or move the child to another state in violation of a court order. Direct interference can also include failing to drop a child off at a scheduled time or canceling visitation days.
If a parent has fallen behind on child support payments, the other parent may try to prevent them from seeing their child. This, too, would count as parenting time interference. In almost every state, a parent can't deny the other's visitation rights because of missing child support.
A parent's time can be interfered with in indirect ways as well. For example, a parent may interfere with the other's rights by disrupting communication between parent and child. Refusing to allow a child to accept calls from a parent often constitutes unacceptable interference. Similarly, preventing a parent from participating in a child's school or extracurricular activities may count as interference.
Disparaging the other parent, asking the child to report on or "spy" on the parent's personal life, or attempting to make the child refuse to see its other parent can all constitute interference. To prevent this, and to keep their children out of parental disagreements, many parents are including a provision in their custody agreements saying that one parent may not disparage the other in front of the child.
Remedies for Parenting Time Interference
If a parent violates another's court-ordered parenting time, a court can propose almost any solution that it finds to be fair and appropriate. Common remedies include:
For more extreme interference, a court may also order the arrest and imprisonment of the interfering parent. If a parent is violating court-ordered custody or visitation rights, they may be found in contempt of court, which can result in jail time. Many states also include interference with parental rights in their criminal laws. In California, Texas, and New York, for example, interference with custody can result in felony charges.
Parental Alienation Syndrome
Parental alienation syndrome describes a "disorder" in which a child feels unjustified and intense detachment towards one parent, as the result of the comments of the other parent. In other words, the term describes a child's unjustified anger towards one parent caused by insulting or hateful comments made by the other parent. This may result in the child disliking and avoiding the disparaged parent.
Parental alienation syndrome is often invoked when a father claims that a mother's angry comments about the father have "programmed" the child against him. The effects of parental alienation syndrome are separate from normal childhood rebellion or angst. This syndrome may seriously damage the relationship between a parent and child and, according to some, can even lead to false allegations of abuse.
It is important to understand that parental alienation syndrome has not been recognized by the medical or psychological community and has also been criticized on legal grounds. It is, however, often brought up in contentious divorce or custody proceedings and can influence custody arraignments between parents.
When a Lawyer Can Help
A lawyer can help you draft a parenting time agreement that meets your needs. For example, some parents are including provisions in their custody plans forbidding disparaging the other parents in front of the child. Many parents are also adding dispute resolution procedures to their plans, to avoid returning to court in the case of a disagreement.
Get Legal Help With Your Parenting Time Issues
There are times when even a court-ordered parenting schedule can inadvertently go awry. However, when it starts to happen on a regular basis, it may be a case of parenting time interference. If this is happening to you, there are many options available, including going back to court to seek enforcement of its orders. Before you do so, you should contact an experienced child custody attorney to discuss your case.