As Philadelphia divorce lawyers we hear about this sticky situation all the time. It can be emotionally distressing for the custodial parent and vastly upsetting for the non-custodial parent. It can sow the seeds of distrust and escalate a stable situation into an unstable one.
And it can land you in contempt of court if you don’t handle it very carefully. So what do you do?
Examine your own role in the child’s reaction.
What are you saying and doing? Are you making it clear you want the other child to go see the other parent? Do you badmouth the other parent, or grill the child on the parent’s behavior during his or her visit? Do you talk about activities the child will miss while he or she is gone, or spend a lot of time talking about how much you miss him or her when he or she is away?
Doing any or all of the above can set up a scenario in which the child feels a sense of divided loyalties. You need to immediately talk to your child about the fact that your reactions have not been fair, and that it’s really important for him or her to go and see the other parent.
Courts take these kinds of manipulations seriously, and are responding to them in new ways. Failing to address your own role in your child’s attitude can be detrimental.
Try to understand what’s going on with the child.
And try to do so without jumping to the worst possible conclusions. If the non-custodial parent wasn’t abusive in the past there’s no reason to leap straight to some form of abuse now, for example.
Maybe your child just wants to stay close to his or her friends. Maybe there’s some form of manipulation going on. Perhaps the other parent enforced a rule the other child didn’t like. Some kids just feel frustrated by the routine of packing and traveling.
Try to use neutral statements to get to the bottom of the problem, without casting judgment. “You’ve got a lot of friends here,” or “packing can be a pain,” might open up the child enough to get to the bottom of the real problem.
Document your efforts to get the child to parenting time.
While it can be frustrating to hear your 8-year old balk at parenting time you must remember you are the parent and getting your child to spend time with the other parent is one of your responsibilities. You need to make a good-faith effort to make it happen and you need to document those efforts.
If your spouse ever brings you back to court to discuss your efforts you need to be able to show that the problem is more than an inability to control your child, which can be used against you later.
Keep in mind the situation may be different if you are parenting an older teen. The court is well aware you can’t pick an 15-year old boy up and physically put him in the other parent’s car. But you need to at least be able to show that you’re encouraging the child to make the effort.
See also: Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws.
If you suspect something really is wrong…
Sometimes there really are legitimate reasons why your child might start avoiding the other parent’s home. There could be trouble with a step parent, or there might be a new, legitimate abuse taking place. If you think there’s a problem hire a child psychologist and contact your lawyer. You need someone who can get to the bottom of the problem, and you need a potential witness in court.
Your attorneys will also walk you through other steps you may need to take or proof you may need to gather to help you make your case, as well as the steps you can and should take to immediately begin protecting your child. Do not simply make a unilateral decision to put an end to parenting time, as this could muddy your efforts to protect your child later. Call Sadek and Cooper immediately so your child can get the protection he or she deserves.