As difficult as divorce is for the litigants, it is inordinately more so for the children. This is especially true in acrimonious divorces where either unintentionally, or by design, one parent places the children directly in the midst of the litigation. The emotional, psychological and other effects on the children as a result depend on numerous factors, including but not limited to: the age of the children, the extent of their exposure to the litigation and the particular conduct engaged in by one of both of the parents.
Often times, in a divorce where custodial issues are hotly contested, court intervention is necessary in connection with parenting time schedules. In these same circumstances, there is often additional litigation in connection with non-compliance and/or interference with parental access. More often than not, these issues arise due to a child’s refusal to see the non-custodial parent pursuant to the parenting time schedule due to his/her social or other priorities OR the child has negative feelings towards the non-custodial parent. The latter can be the result of realistic circumstances or can be due to the alienating conduct of the custodial parent. In either case, it is incumbent upon the custodial parent to address this issue, lest he/she be subject to the legal consequences of non-compliance.
How the non-custodial parent deals with a child’s refusal to see the other parent depends on the reasons for the refusal. Courts generally expect a custodial parent to encourage parenting time UNLESS there is a clear and valid reason for not doing so. In that case it is incumbent upon the custodial parent to bring such a circumstances to the attention of his/her attorney, so that any necessary application to the court can be made to modify or suspend the visits. In this regard, the burden of proof is high, and a parent seeking this relief, may also run the risk of appearing alienating.
In the absence of circumstances adversely affecting a child’s welfare, parenting time must be encouraged in order to foster a healthy and loving relationship with the non-custodial parent. Similarly, the non-custodial parent must be flexible regarding a child’s expressed wishes to, on occasion, either forego a visit or re-schedule it for an alternate time. Although its clearly not easy to force a child, especially not ones of a certain age, to do virtually anything, the child must not be permitted to make the decision as to whether he/she will spend time with the non-custodial parent, particularly when same is court-ordered. Significantly, if the child is adamant in his/her refusal, it is critical to explore the reasons for the child’s apprehension. Under normal circumstances, fostering a healthy and loving relationship with the non custodial parent has positive and long lasting effects for your child. Under these same circumstances, interfering with the relationship may have dire consequences and may even backfire on the custodial parent in numerous ways such as legal and future resentment by the child.
Even in the most acrimonious divorces, there must be a recognition by both parents that the children are undoubtedly suffering from divided loyalties, which will only be accentuated by the desire of either or both parents to “win” the custodial battle. In lieu of engaging in this shortsighted thinking, the children’s best interests will always be better served by a parent who puts the love for his/her child above the hatred he/she may feel for the other parent.